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.
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.