In a daring move, Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, announced June 12 that the company would be releasing its patents to the open market. The release of these patents has been made in the name of creativity and the environment. Musk posted a blog-style press release, saying that he hopes the open nature of his technology will allow larger auto producers to explore the electric car market and get the tires spinning within the creative minds of their engineers.
"The unfortunate reality is ... 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 percent of their total vehicle sales," wrote Musk. Initially, Tesla sought out patents in the hopes of protecting its technology from competitors, but it has found that no electric car competitors have arisen. Instead, gasoline-fueled cars are the main threat.
The patent problem
Part of the reasoning behind the release of Tesla's patents is the hope that the new information will not only encourage other automotive giants to explore the electric car market, but also inspire engineers to explore the technology. In his press release, Musk expressed his belief that patents only stifle creativity within the automotive industry and lead to unnecessary lawsuits. In his opinion, the patent system forces companies to spend more money on their legal departments instead of investing in the development of new designs.
"A patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit," he wrote. Tesla's patent release is part of its "open source philosophy," which it believes will strengthen its current position. Musk also announced that Tesla will not take part in patent lawsuits and has opened up his technology in good faith.
In addition to creating a more open market for the electric car industry, Tesla also hopes that its decision will be beneficial to the environment. It believes that the production of gasoline-free cars will help alleviate part of the carbon crisis driving pollution and global warming. Although Tesla alone cannot produce enough cars to make a lasting impact, encouraging the industry to grow could make the necessary difference.
"It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis," expressed Musk, sharing his belief that Tesla and other car makers should play a part in curbing their negative impact on the environment.
Jacob Sherkow, a patent law expert at the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School, told the Los Angeles Times that Tesla's move will end up benefiting the company in the end. Tesla is planning on building factories that will produce the car battery that is key to its design. Sherkow points out that, if other car companies pick up Tesla's design from the newly released patents, they will still have to buy their batteries from Tesla. According to Forbes, Tesla has already provided batteries to Toyota in the past.
The L.A. Times also reported that Tesla is considering opening up its supercharger network, a system of charging stations across the nation, to competitors for use. The stations would work in the same way that gas stations operate. By allowing competitors to use the charging stations, Tesla would be increasing its customer base. Musk recently said that he has already engaged BMW in talks regarding this idea.
Although the release of Tesla's patents poses some risk, exposing its tricks and secrets to the open market, there is hope that it will give the gas-dependant automotive industry the tune up it needs to thrive in the future.