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Toyota further increased patents for hybrid technologies(Photo: Toyota)

The world's carmakers registered 7 pc more patents in 2014 than the year before, with Toyota alone accounting for 26 pc of the total.

According to Germany's Center of Automotive Management (CAM), the 18 biggest global carmakers registered more than 57,000 patents in 2014. Honda came second after Toyota and General Motors was in third place.

"Patents can work as early indicators of technology and innovation trends and can provide clues to the technology strategies of the automakers," said Stefan Bratzel, who heads the research institute.

German carmakers posted big increases in patent registrations, with Volkswagen up 35 pc, BMW up 29 pc and Daimler up 15 pc. US carmaker Ford registered 33 pc more patents than in 2013.

The CAM study provided some insights into the changing priorities of the car industry. "The patent trends show that many carmakers have in recent years radically changed their technology focus in the powertrain area," Bratzel said in a press release. "They are intensely looking beyond the internal combustion engine for technical solutions in the areas of hybrid powertrains and electric mobility."

As a result, 85 pc of all new powertrain patents cover alternative engine technologies, with hybrids taking the biggest share.

Toyota already holds the most patents for hybrid technologies, but CAM found that the Japanese car group further increased patents registered in this area by 11 pc to 1,750 in 2014.