Tesla gives up its patents in switch to ‘open source’


Sat, Jun 14, 2014 - Page 15

Electric automaker Tesla Motors Inc announced on Thursday it was giving up its patents to “the open source movement,” to help spur electric vehicle technology.

The unusual move comes with Tesla enjoying huge success, but against a backdrop of multiplying legal squabbles among technology firms over patents.

“All our patents belong to you,” Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said in a blog post.

“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 added.

Musk, an entrepreneur who made a fortune with the PayPal online payment service and also heads the space travel firm Space X, said he does not want patents to halt growth of an important environmental technology.

“We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly evolving technology platform,” he wrote.

He said when Tesla was launched, “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.”

However, he said this turned out not to be the case.

“We couldn’t have been more wrong,” he said. “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 nonexistent, constituting an average of far less than 1 percent of their total vehicle sales.”

Musk added that Tesla “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

Brian Love, a Santa Clara University law professor, said he has seen a “very positive reaction” to Tesla’s decision.

However, Love said it is not clear if Tesla is in fact ceding all its rights.

“Rather, it seems to be simply promising not to proactively sue those who enter the electric car market and use similar technology,” he said.

Robert Stoll, a former US patent commissioner who practices law in Washington, said that the automaker “must have a good business reason for wanting to freely share its electric car patents with others.”

He added that the move is not unprecedented and that the US Patent Office has a mechanism to allow companies to cede their patent rights.

Tesla earlier this year unveiled plans for a so-called “Gigafactory” for advanced electric car batteries as part of a plan to move from niche manufacturer to mass market automaker.

The company says it hopes to bring the cost of production down and produce 500,000 cars a year.