Elon Musk to Electric Car World: Our Patents Are Your Patents

It was the first automaker to build a mass-produced electric sports car capable of beating most muscle cars, the first automaker to build a luxury long-distance electric sedan, and the first automaker to make it possible to drive from coast to coast in the U.S. without ever having to worry about stopping for gas.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has just confirmed that Tesla is making its patents open source.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has just confirmed that Tesla is making its patents open source.

As of today, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] has also become the first automaker to openly share its electric car secrets with the world.

Hinted at a few weeks back at Tesla’s Annual Shareholder Meeting, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in an official Tesla blogpost moments ago that Tesla Motors will freely offer its electric car patents in what is essentially an open source agreement.

Musk’s blog post, entitled “All Our Patent Are Belong to You”, echoes Musk’s words from last week, reiterating his personal desire to see electric cars replace gasoline ones as quickly as possible, changing the course of our future forever.

Acknowledging that Tesla’s small production volumes can in no way build electric cars fast enough to meet a global fleet of 2 billion cars, Musk expressed the belief that the electric car industry shouldn’t be fighting itself — but gasoline cars.

Expect Tesla's Supercharging patents to be in those given away.

Expect Tesla’s Supercharging patents to be in those given away.

By releasing the patents to the world, and not initiating patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use Tesla’s technology, Musk said he hopes to better achieve Tesla’s original goal: to kick-start and rapidly accelerate the sustainable transportation revolution.

Below you’ll find Musk’s blog post verbatim, which you can also read on Tesla’s website. Musk’s post is a little light on detail, and there’s no word as yet on quite how the patents will be released or which ones will make the biggest impact on the electric vehicle world.

From what we can tell however, when Musk says “All,” he really does mean it. And that opens up a world of possibilities, from supercharging family hatchbacks to long range electric cars for everyone.

But let’s not get too excited yet. ‘Open Source’ is a term which can be applied to a whole slew of different software licences in the computer world, covering everything from ones which allow an end user to reuse and modify software or designs through to ones which prohibit use in specific situations.

From what we can tell, Musk genuinely wants Telsa’s technology to give a massive boost to the electric car revolution. And if that’s the case, the license it will be shared under will have to reflect a great deal of trust on Tesla’s part to anyone wishing to use it to build their own electric car.

Naturally, we’ll be keeping a close eye on this story as it develops — and we want to see the legal licenses attached to Tesla’s patent release before we get too excited — but we’re keen to see what you think of this monumental announcement. Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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 1% 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.


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