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Cars Image Credit: Tesla Motors

Published on June 12th, 2014 | by James Ayre

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Elon Musk: No More Patents, Our Technology Is Free To Use/Copy

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June 12th, 2014 by
 
Elon Musk has made yet another highly interesting and somewhat unpredictable move/announcement (in a long line of such moves) — Tesla Motors will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, uses the company’s technology.

According to Musk, the move is intended to help spur further/faster development in/of the EV industry — and perhaps begin to put a real dent in the market-share of gas-powered vehicles as compared to electric ones.

Image Credit: Tesla Motors

The announcement comes via a recent blog posting by Elon Musk on the Tesla website, and was accompanied by the symbolic act of removing the wall of Tesla patents previously displayed in the lobby of the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto.

Here’s an excerpt from Musk’s post explaining the decision:

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.

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 1% of their total vehicle sales.

Musk goes on to note that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year — making for an enormous market, filled mostly with gas-powered cars. Such gas-powered cars are Tesla’s “true competition,” Musk states — allowing other companies to use Tesla’s technology to increase their production of EVs shouldn’t really be an issue.

“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.”

Interesting. Seems like the right choice to me (and certainly makes for good PR). :)

Any thoughts from our readers?

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



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  • globi

    The head of the Swiss department of transport, energy, environment and communications wants to purchase a Tesla S:
    http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/schweiz/standard/Leuthard-beschafft-diesen-Flitzer-als-Dienstwagen-/story/10719595
    (And would possibly the world’s first minister driving a Tesla S.)

  • Pieter Siegers

    Great move, as we all know patent systems are just a fraud and give the monopolies industries the chance to easily filter out patents that may threaten their business. I think Elon Musk did a good thing for mankind deciding this, and of course his company will be able to move itself forward more easily.

  • Jim Seko

    Elon Musk has five children. He probably wants them to inherit a planet that is livable.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Yes, think he has made clear repeatedly that this has been his driving force. Must keep up with the science enough to know that we aren’t on track for that. Knows that Tesla has been rocking it, but we need much more.

  • Ahmet

    I dont think it is about being in open source mood or heading the world to better place. It is all about economics and making money. Big companies spend big chunk of their money to R&D for ICE cars so this make ICE cars more cheap and advanced. When they are more cheap they sell well. This is opposite for EV , big companies spend less for EV so they are not advancig equally with the ICE cars. It prevent mass market EV products so EVs increasingly lost to ICE cars in economy. Because EV market(and Tesla) cant benefit from economics of scale production.
    When so many players enter the competition, components for EV productions will be huge and Tesla will benefit from economics of scale with other competitors. If EV market will be niche market like now in the 3-4 years future Tesla will lose too because it has too much debt for near future. Elon Musk dont want to lose so as a genius his move is genius again.

    • Crama

      Musk=genius-yes, but how will open sourcing his patents benefit him? His benefit will only come if others take his designs, tweaking them, and making them better, then sharing back their improvements, along the method implemented by the Free Software Foundation.

      If we get thousands of minds working to make better designs of what Tesla has patented (and other companies), this could advance the EV world tremendously including Tesla. In the manufacturing world it isn’t the design but the making of a usable product in the most cost efficient way that make you money. So, if we started open sourcing components that would be used in the making of an EV, it would be the company that makes that component the best quality and the cheapest that would win financially.

      • ahmeta

        i said that reduced competition and standartization in ev world will provide necessary volume production which will benefit to Tesla. Ice cars are increasingly being competetive aganist Ev while they reduce their gas consumtion. ev industry need to collaborate to win fight aganist ice cars. collaboration will benefit to tesla because it will generaly reduce ev component prices because of mass production.

        • Crama

          Agreed!

    • Bob_Wallace

      Elon has stated that his goal was not to build a profitable major car company, but to accelerate the development of EVs.

    • Alex P

      Has any one given any thought about throwing the gigafactory into the equation? Think of it, once the gigafactory is up and running it will double battery manufacturing global capacity. Tesla will be the battery source.

  • Crama

    Is he setting up his “open source” patents like those of the true open source movement, where designs or ideas can be used and changed, but all changes must be shared back to all others, like with the Linux model?

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Think the only info right now is what’s in that linked press release.

  • Kyle Field

    I hope this sends a loud message not only to the auto industry, but also to those in the broader technology space where patent wars do nothing more than stifle progress and slow innovation.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Yeah, have to believe that was part of his thinking.

      • Ahmet

        Patent wars is good for companies in a established industry like smartphones to get big chunk from market. But it is not good for EV industry which trying to survive aganist ICE car industry. Competition in EV market make it lose aganist established and very advanced ICE market.

  • JMin2020

    My hat is off to Elon for being honest with himself and others. I expect to see strident advances in the EV Industry now; for some time.

  • nakedChimp

    wow.. this dude really impresses me. Hat off to him.

  • Raja Bob

    Methinks it not coincidental that this announcement comes flat on the heels of Tesla in China. This is aimed straight at the Chinese car industry.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Same thing crossed my mind. But wondered if it was too cynical…

    • Ahmet

      It is all about to reduce competition in EV industry aganist ICE industry. If EV industry lost aganist ICE industry Tesla wil lost too. So Elon Musk behave like that. It is not about any counrty but about industry and trends

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        Frankly, I think there are many reasons behind it. Which was the #1 reason? I think it does come down to Elon’s (and the Tesla crew’s) desire to see the EV revolution come about as quickly as possible (in order to help address global warming and because that would be really cool). my humble guess.

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