Editor’s note: The development of the electric vehicle industry is just one more step toward more energy independence. And an equally exciting thought is that electric vehicles could run on wind generated power, recharging at night when electric demand is lowest.This post is a blog by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors.
In early June, 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.
Filed Under: News
Robert Echavaria says
This noble attempt at changing the paradigm of technology development in a key industry of the future is ultimately short-sighted for Tesla, unless they have commitment from their competitors that they will follow suit and open their portfolio of IPR to the industry as well. The open source software industry has been successful over the past 25 years because there was a community of companies who all agreed to play by the same rules. So far, only Tesla is playing by these open source rules, and it appears unlikely that other major automakers would be willing to follow their lead.
Unfortunately, we don’t all live in the world of Genre Roddenberry’s Star Trek where money has been abolished and people want for nothing because nobody wants more than what they really need. But until we achieve that utopian paradise, if I were a Tesla employee, I’d be furious right now that my company will be less valuable in the future than it could have been.
If Mr. Musk would be willing to redistribute his wealth to the employees and investors who made the commitment to create value for the company in the first place, then this move to open source their patents during the formative stages of the EV industry might make more sense.