Elon Musk demonstrates courage of his convictions, opens Tesla patents

12 Jun 2014

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Elon Musk speaking in Dublin at the Summit last year

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Already lauded as somewhat of a hero in the world of sustainability, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has drawn admiring gasps today, by announcing he is opening up the patents for his Tesla electric car to other car manufacturers.

On the Tesla Blog this evening, he writes that the wall of Telsa patents in the lobby of its Palo Alto HQ is now bare. "They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology," he writes. "Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology."

Tesla, he says, was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport, through the creation of "compelling electric vehicles". Yet, he says, the very patents he once believed in now actually act "in a manner contrary to those goals".

"I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them," he writes. "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."

Musk says he originally felt compelled to create patents to ensure that the giant car manufacturers not copy Tesla's technology and then overwhelm his company through their huge resources in manufacturing, marketing and sales.

"We couldn't have been more wrong," says Musk. "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 1pc of their total vehicle sales."

And so, as it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars at a rate that could have a meaningful impact on what he describes as the "carbon crisis", he is making the Tesla patents open source.

"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," says Musk. "We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla's position in this regard."

Hats off, we say.

You can check out Elon Musk speaking in Dublin last year at the Summit here (videos).

Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Inspirefest

editorial@siliconrepublic.com