Tesla Gives Free Access To Its Technology Patents

Tesla’s Elon Musk shook up the automotive world yesterday by opening up all of Tesla Motors’ patents to anyone wishing to use them.

In layman’s terms, he made all of the company’s protected technology available to all, following a trend known as the open source movement.

In a way to illustrate this decision, Musk has made sure the list of patents known as the patent wall in the company’s headquarters is now removed.

This does not mean Tesla will see directly competing cars eating its lunch tomorrow. In fact, there are caveats if you read the fine print, such as would-be users must do so in good faith.

”Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology,” said Musk in a blog post, meaning Tesla will retain rights over its “free” patents.

Nor are all of Tesla’s patents likely to be used, as Tesla keeps innovating forward beyond where it was, but the gesture is ostensibly magnanimous – even if there is underlying enlightened self interest at the bottom of it – and potentially of inestimable value.

All this is Tesla’s way of saying it wants to foster more EV adoption in the population and this can only happen if many other automotive companies start offering such vehicles.

How will Tesla benefit from this? Musk believes patents now stifles progress and he would rather see competition coming from new green cars rather than gas-guzzlers.

Here is the content of Musk’s blog post, which can also be found here:

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

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. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

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 car programs (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 1percent of their total vehicle sales.

At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.

Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.

We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.