Tesla Motors Patents: CEO Elon Musk Makes Technology Open Source, Hopes Major Companies Create More Electric Cars

By Matthew Buzzi , Updated Jun 13, 2014 01:43 PM EDT
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Multi-billionaire Elon Musk wants electric cars to take over the market, and he's willing to allow competitors to use Tesla's technology to do it.

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The Tesla Motors CEO wrote a blog post explaining that the company will no longer be enforcing its patents, letting other companies use its technology to develop zero emission cars if they wish.

Tesla originally feared its innovations would be copied by major manufacturers with superior mass production capabilities, but are now more concerned that these huge auto companies have so little interest in making electric cars at all. If Tesla's technology becoming open source can spur more electric vehicles, Musk would rather give his secrets away than be the only ones using them.

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"Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport," the CEO wrote on the blog. "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 1% of their total vehicle sales."

It's a respectable move from Musk, and it's hard to say it will truly endanger Tesla any time soon. As he points out, so few big companies are seriously investing in electric vehicles that it will be some time until anyone will be fighting for zero emission vehicles market share--and Musk would rather an industry where there was an electric market to fight over.

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