Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced yesterday that the company has removed the display of patents from the wall of its headquarters in Palo Alto, “…in the spirit of the open-source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.
“When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them,” he wrote in a blog post. “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.”
Subsequently, he came to realize that “… receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit,” and he avoided them whenever possible.
Nevertheless, he wrote, Tesla felt compelled to obtain patents to prevent large automakers from copying technology and overwhelming Tesla, but in fact electric-car programs at the major auto manufacturers are small to nonexistent, accounting for less than 1% of total vehicle sales.
“At best,” he wrote, “the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.” Consequently, “…it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis.” He sees Tesla's competition not as electric vehicles from other manufacturers “…but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.”
Tesla, he said, wants to clear a path to compelling electric vehicles without laying intellectual property landmines behind it, writing, “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”
He concluded his post by writing, “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.”
It's unfortunate that more don't share his view.