Tesla Motors made big headlines when CEO Elon Musk announced a few weeks ago that he would open up all of the automaker's patents. The response has been interesting, to say the least, with some electric vehicle advocates and investor groups praising the news and others saying that what Musk did wasn't all that big a deal, in the end.

"No major car company would be foolish enough to use Tesla's patents." – Motley Fool

The Motley Fool, for example, says that the patents themselves are not all that revealing since, "There often is only so much information that you can get from a patent. Only Tesla knows how to put it all together in a cost-effective manner." And who's to say that once you dig into the patents, they won't be outdated? A search of the US Patent Office reveals 1,444 patents for "Tesla and motors" including some from inventor Nikola Tesla and other sources. The Washington Post says Tesla Motors itself only has around 300 patents. The Motley Fool also notes that Musk's statement was not a legal document and that, "no major car company would be foolish enough to use Tesla's patents based on some undefined words in a blog post by one executive who may not even be working at Tesla in five years."

Then there's the fact that the battery technology that Tesla uses, linking up thousands of small format cells from Panasonic, is not something most other automakers have expressed an interest in. The cell patents belong to Panasonic and most automakers use larger format cells anyway.

Tesla patent drawing charge cord

Still, there is some excitement over the announcement in the EV space. The most concrete evidence we have of a major global OEM working with Tesla are the stories about BMW and Nissan meeting with Tesla in secret to discuss charging technology. Details are sadly lacking, but BMW of North America's product and technology communications manager, Matthew Russell, told AutoblogGreen, "We can confirm that BMW Group executives met on June 11th, 2014 with Tesla executives. Both companies are strongly committed to the success of electric vehicles and discussed how to further strengthen the development of electro mobility on an international level. We are interested in the success of electro mobility, but we cannot comment on the business announcements from other companies."

But the news has been greeted with a lukewarm 'meh' from most of the rest of the automotive industry. Honda spokesperson Angie Nucci gave AutoblogGreen a sideways statement that neglected to directly mention the Tesla options: "We strongly feel Honda is a leader in the field of electric drive technologies and already has one of the most energy efficient electric vehicles on the road – the 118 MPGe EPA-rated Fit EV. We feel its power and handling make it one of the most fun-to-drive EVs on the market." In other words, we're good.

"We don't have anybody seriously studying [Tesla's] patents." – Kevin Kelly, GM

It's the same over at General Motors, despite the fact that the Detroit automaker is paying close attention to Tesla. Kevin Kelly, manager of electrification technology communications for GM, tells AutoblogGreen that, "Right now, we don't have anybody seriously studying [Tesla's] patents. ... We're interested in what they're doing more from the business side." Kelly did say that GM works with other OEMs on many things like industry groups and common standards. Ford, Toyota and Chrysler did not respond to our requests for comment.

The one automaker that has publicly said it will dig deep into Tesla's patents is Mahindra, which has previously offered the e2o EV and is working on an electric version of its Verito Sedan, starting in Bhutan. Bhutan is becoming quite the EV hotspot. Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles' CEO Chetan Mani told Value Walk, "We will review [the patents], and it's too early to comment on the direct benefit to us."


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  • 64 Comments
      edward.stallings
      • 1 Year Ago
      None of the articles that talk about Tesla's patents say anything about the patents themselves or why they are important. I suspect they are not because there is nothing about a Tesla that looks like new technology.
        JakeY
        • 8 Months Ago
        @edward.stallings
        None of the articles that talk about the patents say anything about the patents themselves or why they are important because the people writing them don't have enough technical expertise to evaluate them! Remember, these are financial analysts or journalists. A lot of times they get technical information wrong even when it's something simple written in the car spec sheet. I can understand why they don't even want to attempt to do such an analysis for the ~300 patents that Tesla holds or is in the process of filing. They are not that hard to find on the USPTO (just input "Tesla Motors" as "Applicant Name" or "Assignee Name": http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-bool.html http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=0&f=S&l=50&TERM1=tesla+motors&FIELD1=AANM&co1=OR&TERM2=tesla+motors&FIELD2=ASNM&d=PTXT How many people can say they can actually understand all that and their significance versus other patents (esp. in context in terms of value when fighting a patent lawsuit)? However, I will say, from my own cursory browsing, most of their patents relate to their small cell battery pack (covering all the way from cell design to the pack enclosure and cooling systems). They also have patents on their motor and charging systems (and some weirder ones on hybrid and metal air batteries). The automakers will probably be most interested in the patents related to charging (as it is unlikely to be possible to built a compatible system without stepping on those patents). Unless they want to go small cell, they probably won't be interested in the battery patents. The large automakers are mostly banking on large cells catching up in energy density and cell cost. The wildcard is what happens with the gigafactory (and if any companies would be interested in joining or building something similar using the same template).
      gomducks
      • 1 Year Ago
      It's not surprising no one is interested in Tesla's battery tech. But possibly there is something else in there. They certainly are brilliant at product development and customer service, I think their products are great. But they don't seem to have a technology advantage on anyone- they just use existing technology better. Their goal to produce more mass market cars is hanging on the proposition that building batteries in higher volume will dramatically lower costs (which ought to work.) I don't think it's dependent on some fundamental breakthrough in battery technology.
      Cool Disco Dan
      • 1 Year Ago
      I don't see much more than maybe a few infrastructure standards coming out of this. That would be a good thing if it happened and possible cause a growth of charging stations.
        Ricardo Gozinya
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Cool Disco Dan
        I don't think that we need more charging stations, so much as we need a single standard for them.
      johnnythemoney
      • 1 Year Ago
      Well they also said Tesla would have gone **** before the end of the Roadster production, or that the Model S was vaporware, or its range, the supercharger network, etc etc.
      Aurelie
      • 1 Year Ago
      Clean Hydrogen Fuel cells are the future, not massive battery packs.
      danfred311
      • 1 Year Ago
      I haven't looked at the patents but I assume that like basically every other patent in a large company they are all complete bullshit and a crime against humanity to spend bureaucracy trying to protect the trivial as if it's significant in a profoundly disgusting lawyer game. But the gesture to forego that game is nonetheless valuable. I have said many times before that the patent system is an abomination and a crime against humanity and should be completely abolished. If they thought about it a bit, almost all companies in the world should be lobbying for the removal of the patent system because it's only a war element burden. It's almost never an advantage. The simple fact is that the ratio between patents and actually good technical ideas is extremely high. Patents are being awarded for deeply moronic things and often things that have existed long before. Kodak had a patent for thumbnail pictures in a camera. And iirc they won lawsuits against other companies with that. They all deserve to burn in hell for that. All involved. The patent system is not for protecting actual inventions. It's a corporate power play and essentially only financially benefits the scum lawyers and saves up on their hell account. They have enough for retirement. I don't have to look at Tesla Motors' patents to know they are all ****. That's the state of the patent system. Solid certainty without having to look. I guess I should take a look and maybe learn a bit from how specifically they are terrible.
      mustang_sallad
      • 1 Year Ago
      Whoa guys, a little miss-leading to take this quote out of context - "No major car company would be foolish enough to use Tesla's patents." – Motley Fool When I saw that quote emphasized alongside the article, i assumed it meant that Motley Fool was making a statement on the content of those patents, when in reality, they were just saying that an automaker would likely seek a formal "we won't sue you" agreement.
        Carguy
        • 8 Months Ago
        @mustang_sallad
        Thats a better reading. No corporate counsel is going to recommend use of an intellectual property based on a press release by another company's CEO. I'm sure all of the automakers have had meetings with engineers and attorneys internally to discuss what if anything Tesla's announcement meant for them. Ultimately as silly as it sounds pride and stubbornness will keep some automakers and engineers from using the Tesla patents where the Tesla tech is slightly better.
        Spec
        • 8 Months Ago
        @mustang_sallad
        Motley fool articles are generally written by amateurs who have no idea what they are talking about.
      Bernard
      • 1 Year Ago
      "We strongly feel Honda is a leader in the field of electric drive technologies and already has one of the most energy efficient electric vehicles on the road – the 118 MPGe EPA-rated Fit EV. We feel its power and handling make it one of the most fun-to-drive EVs on the market." You have to be kidding me. A Honda Fit? Have any of the guys at Honda driven a Tesla? The top of the line Model S P85+ would leave a BMW M5 behind at the drag strip. The power and handling of a Fit is not impressing anyone at Tesla. Honda is at the absolute bottom of the pack when it comes to EV tech. Toyota, GM, and even Ford all have PHEV's that would run circles around an Insight. Regardless, the stock is sitting pretty at $239, so maybe the Motely Fool is the foolish one here. Tesla is doing fine and they are ahead of the entire market. If they don't grab on to those patents now they'll never catch up. Arrogance from companies like Honda isn't going to help anyone.
        SloopJohnB
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Bernard
        Not for more than one or two runs. The Tesla would overheat and just slooooow down. It's not even good for a lap around the Nuerburgring at speed IIRC.
        krona2k
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Bernard
        Honda have a real nerve making that statement. Leading in electric drive? Total BS!
        Weapon
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Bernard
        Honda is one of the 3 on the fool cell bandwagon, so their response is not surprising.
        DucatiCorse
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Bernard
        Also, Motley is predominantly contributor-written. So if you look at its past articles, they all fluctuate from "Tesla is great!", "Tesla sucks!", "Tesla is great!", "Tesla sucks!", etc.
          Luc K
          • 8 Months Ago
          @DucatiCorse
          They all have these opinion articles on certain products which is irrelevant as investor. They also shouted PC is dead years ago and then they contradict themselves year later. One of the worst investor sites. You'd be better off to go serious site like Morningstar.
          Spec
          • 8 Months Ago
          @DucatiCorse
          Seriously. Most Motley Fool articles are a complete garbage.
      Weapon
      • 1 Year Ago
      At this point it is way early to tell. I am pretty sure all the car companies went to look at Tesla's patents when it was announced regardless of their position. But these things take time to work out and dig through. So it is too early to tell at this point.
      Avinash Machado
      • 1 Year Ago
      wonder if any Chinese automakers will be interested.
        chuckhalper
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Avinash Machado
        Chinese sales of electric cars are even worse than they are here.
        Levine Levine
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Avinash Machado
        The Chinese auto makers already have their own EV and battery system.
        thecommentator2013
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Avinash Machado
        One of the biggest Battery producers - if not the biggest (BAIC I think it is) - for sure has no interest in such stuff. And for that matter, the chinese are among the leaders in Li-On-Tech.
        b.rn
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Avinash Machado
        As if they were going to let a patent stop them anyway.
      eli
      • 1 Year Ago
      sounds like the time GM talked crap about honda's cvcc technology in the 70s. Boy were they proven wrong.
        Jesse Gurr
        • 1 Year Ago
        @eli
        Don't companies talk crap about other company's products all the time anyway? What is so surprising about that? Sometimes heads of companies talk crap about their own products. Looking at you Sergio. Anyway, new tech comes out that is better and then replaces the old tech. Nothing new there either, otherwise we'd still be hand cranking our own engines.
        SloopJohnB
        • 1 Year Ago
        @eli
        Ummm…and where is CVCC today? Gone gone gone. Although variations and derivations may exist.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wrong. Such a unilateral contract is completely enforceable. If a car company went ahead and built an EV and then Tesla filed suit against them, the court would in all likelihood throw the case out because of Tesla's unilateral contract.
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