When Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that he's thinking about something, you definitely need to pay attention because it's likely something big. In an eloquently worded press release (a very rare thing indeed) Musk explains reason after reason why Tesla is opening up all of its patents, effective immediately.

According to the missive, Tesla initially applied for patents on its technology because it was afraid bigger, more powerful automakers would take its ideas and destroy the tiny automaker. However, that hasn't happened. Musk claims that while the company has grown, "electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn't burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent." At the same time, the global auto industry continues to grow, and Tesla's main competitors aren't from other electric carmakers, but the traditional internal combustion engine.

Musk claims that if you walk into the company's lobby right now all of its patent forms are gone from the walls. "We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform," he writes.

It's startling to see this announcement come so suddenly, but it's not entirely surprising. While answering a question at the company's recent shareholder meeting, Musk said he was considering something that "should be kind of controversial with respect to Tesla's patents." He later hinted to the BBC that he might be opening them up.

In the statement, Musk also philosophizes about patents in general. When he was younger, he thought they were valuable to protect a business. Today, "they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors." Even his company SpaceX avoids patents, reportedly to protect its ideas. Scroll down to read the entire impassioned announcement, titled All Our Patents Are Belong to You.
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All Our Patent Are Belong To You

By Elon Musk, CEO
TAGS: CUSTOMERS / MODEL S /

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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  • 98 Comments
      Joeviocoe
      • 6 Months Ago
      Basic "Long Game" strategy. If you lead a particular market segment, but that segment is small.. it is okay to invite and encourage others to follow (and Grow the Market)... as you will still be the leader with such a head start.
      mazeroni
      • 6 Months Ago
      Part of Tesla's business strategy is making batteries more cost effective. For that you need larger economies of scale. As Tesla is currently in the process of building sustainable battery factories to drive down costs, opening their patents for other companies to utilize their technology will benefit their business in the long term. If everyone uses the standards set by Tesla then those companies will use Tesla for their batteries, charging stations and that clever battery swap idea they have. The more people building electric cars the faster they can implement those things which in turn drives sales which in turn benefits their business. Yes, it is for the betterment of humanity but it is still a smart business strategy. What Tesla doesn't want is for BMW, MB, Ford, Toyota or anyone else to come out with their own standard which becomes more popular. In a way they are trying to drive out competition, but for the right reasons.
      altapowderdog
      • 6 Months Ago
      I wonder if the tech required for other cars to charge using their supercharger network now open source... hmm....
        Rotation
        • 6 Months Ago
        @altapowderdog
        The tech in superchargers existed before Tesla, they just expanded upon it. Superchargers already check to see if your Model S is authorized before charging it, if you made your own car it likely wouldn't work not because you can't duplicate the tech, but because your car isn't on the authorized list.
          Joeviocoe
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Rotation
          Right.. the circuitry is not really a IP issue. The software integration still requires a key.... and thus can still be licensed. But at least now.. another automaker could build EVs that can accept such power, and possibly build their own network of 135KW fast chargers.
        Joeviocoe
        • 6 Months Ago
        @altapowderdog
        Well, Elon Musk said that nobody ever asked to use the Supercharger network. But that is expected since a 135KW supercharger would need a powerful battery that could accept such high power for over 30 minutes. An EV with such a battery would likely have over 200 KW of power at peak. And an acceleration time of below 7 seconds. An automaker could utilize a supercharger at a much lower power level... but Tesla would charge that automaker more per enabled EV, because they would take up the stall for much longer.
      Lamgineer
      • 6 Months Ago
      I have no doubt about Elon's primary good intention to promote EV and help it overtake ICE sooner rather than later, but I think one of the main reason/benefit of open sourcing their EV-related patent is the GigaFactory. To create more demands for li-ion battery cells. They can potentially make more money selling cells to other car manufacturers than to build their own EV. It is a smart hedge in case Tesla the car companies doesn't survive or they don't meet their lofty goal of selling 500,000 EV in a few years. Imagine if they have their Gigafactory built and meeting their manufacturing goals, but they only sell 200k EV a year? What will they do with the extra batteries? Opening source their EV-technology and hopefully another major manufacturer will use their design will guarantee the demands for their cell and give Tesla another way to grow. Elon is one smart man!
        finzenchrome
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Lamgineer
        I think you have something there. Plus, fuel cell vehicles are just now coming to market and could give EV's a run for their money. But because they still store voltage, the batt is where it's at!
          Joeviocoe
          • 6 Months Ago
          @finzenchrome
          FCVs are no closer to market than EVs were 15-20 years ago... a few dozen Lease Only deals in Los Angeles... a lot of hype, a lot of tax payer money wasted, but nothing to show.
      rowlandville
      • 6 Months Ago
      Is this brilliant or insane? (Or both?)
        Dean Hammond
        • 6 Months Ago
        @rowlandville
        the more he gets on board building cars in a similar fashion and utilizing the Supercharging system could spell the death for alternatives such as Hydrogen...brilliant if you ask me...
        Spec
        • 6 Months Ago
        @rowlandville
        Both.
      AcidTonic
      • 6 Months Ago
      As long as it's not GPL...... I wouldn't exactly call that open source. They should perhaps stick with MIT, BSD, Apache, or perhaps even dual licensing for paid support ;).
      ferps
      • 6 Months Ago
      Tesla must be pretty confident that they are one step ahead of the competition. Having more electric vehicles on the road can be good for Tesla (more charging infrastructure, broader consumer acceptance, lower costs due to economy of scale), but of course they still want to sell the best electric car on the market.
      vi_per
      • 6 Months Ago
      Apple could learn a thing or two. A rectangle should not be patented, for example.
        Sean
        • 6 Months Ago
        @vi_per
        But this new rectangle has rounded corners...
        Actionable Mango
        • 6 Months Ago
        @vi_per
        Someone successfully got a patent in 2000 for toast. TOAST. http://www.google.com/patents/US6080436 Everyone does it, so the problem is the patent office and patent law, not Apple.
          captnclintock
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          Yeah, that's for toast between 2500° F. and 4500° F....this guy has successfully trolled the patent office.
      AGSHOP
      • 6 Months Ago
      cool i dont trust Telsa but i would love it if a big manufacture took some of their good ideas and add it with their own tech like honda/acura toyota/lexus nissan/infiniti then i'd be on board to buy a tech like that.
      jonnybimmer
      • 6 Months Ago
      Making smart, long-term moves instead of short-term, selfish moves. This is a company that clearly is looking to stick around for a while, good for them.
      Eeti
      • 6 Months Ago
      Basically they wan't other companies to use their tech so they can make more money.
        jonnybimmer
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Eeti
        Yes and no. They want other companies to use their tech and Tesla will make money because of it, but not directly like how patents work. By allowing other companies to use the tech that they developed (for free), they will increase the overall market for EV's and get more people into buying EV's. Also, I'd imagine by allowing other companies to use Tesla tech, this will help amalgamate the entire EV infrastructure which in turn helps ease people into owning their first EV. Basically, this should reduce the risk of other companies like Ford or VW to develop their own type of charging system and instead just get everyone to use one universal method, like the USB or BluRay.
          CadiVetteFerrari
          • 6 Months Ago
          @jonnybimmer
          Exactly. Standards are a common practice in my industry. In the automotive world, It's a damm free for all. Every car is different that you need a phd in automotive engineering to work on some of them.
          Dean Hammond
          • 6 Months Ago
          @jonnybimmer
          bingo...my thoughts exactly....
        scraejtp
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Eeti
        The exact opposite is true. Companies no longer have to pay (royalties) to use the patents Tesla has made.
        Omologato
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Eeti
        how so? Instead of licensing the technologies, they are opening then up for anyone to use.
          Ramiro Leonardo Pina
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Omologato
          Because this way the market for EVs will be bigger. If they get to keep a little smaller share of a much bigger market, they´ll have more sales and less cost. Maybe other reasons are important (morals or philosophy) but I think it will be positive economicaly for them, and they know it (and it´s great!).
      Tysto
      • 6 Months Ago
      This is really cool. And by the time a competitor can bring a product to market using this tech,Tesla will be off on the next generation tech anyway. But it would be bad PR for anyone to use Tesla tech and then not reveal their own improvements to Tesla in return....
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