by 33rdsquare: Anyone familiar with the culture of most high-tech companies will be familiar with the belief in creating and hoarding patents in a type of corporate brinkmanship…
Now Tesla CEO Elon Musk is breaking another convention by open sourcing all of the company’s patents, making its inventions available for anyone who wants to use them. Will this finally be the tool to open up electric vehicles?
“Too often these days [patents] serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.”
In a blog post titled “All Our Patent Are Belong To You” published on Tesla’s site, Musk writes that “Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal.”
When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.
At Tesla, however, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric carprograms (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.
“If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others,” writes Musk, who also heads SpaceX, “We are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”
Musk believes that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform. “We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard,” he writes.
Perhaps the news isn’t so surprising, given the fact that Musk recently gave away what might be another billion dollar business idea in the Hyperloop concept.
Time will tell if the strategy works; both for Tesla and for the environment. It is also unclear if SpaceX, Solar City and Musk’s other ventures will follow this path.