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Elon Musk gets out of the vehicle patents game

Tesla Motors won’t lay intellectual property landmines
Fri Jun 13 2014, 09:43

ENTREPRENEUR Elon Musk has released the Tesla Motors patents to the public domain, and cited the spirit of the open source moment as his motivation.

Musk revealed the decision in a blog post, explaining that it is necessary for the growth of the electric vehicles industry and the acceleration of technology.

"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," he said.

"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."

Patents, patent deals and patent wrangles are as much a part of the technology industry as marketing, point updates and ridiculous job titles, and we regularly report on how counter they are to development and good business. They are entrenched in business though, and Musk revealed that he has had many patents, and supported technology patents for a time.

"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," he added.

"After Zip2, when I realised that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible."

However, his avoidance of patents ceased when it came to electric vehicle technology and Musk said that Tesla was concerned that the big car companies would overwhelm it unless it had its own level of protection. But electric cars have not lit up the big carmakers, he said, and are not selling in numbers.

This has led him to release the Tesla patents, he explained, in the hope that the technology inspires the market to follow his lead.

"At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all," he explained. "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."

Musk said that freeing the company's patents offers the industry an opportunity, and the world some benefits.

"We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform," he added. "We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla's position in this regard." µ


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