Tesla CEO Elon Musk: All Our Patents Are Now Open Source

JUN 12 2014 BY ERIC LOVEDAY 63

Tesla Open Sources All Of Its Patents

Tesla Open Sources All Of Its Patents (…while riffing on an internet meme)

Lately, there’s been ample discussion surrounding Tesla Motors and its patents.

Tesla Model X Platform Cutaway

Tesla Model X Platform Cutaway

More specifically, there’s been hints that Tesla Motors wants to make its Supercharger network open to all automakers who abide by a few rules.

Well, it’s not just the Supercharger patent that Tesla wants to make open-source.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk posted a blog titled “All Our Patent Are Belong To You,” (hat tip to Elon on the use of a popular meme) in which he specifically states:

“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.”

Musk concludes with this:

“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.”

Even Tesla's Idea For Battery Swapping Is Now Open Source

Even Tesla’s Idea For Battery Swapping Is Apparently Now Open Source

So, all of Tesla’s patents are now open for the world to use.  Which automaker or who will be the first to make use of a Tesla patent?  Which patent will it be?

Complete Tesla blog post authored by Elon Musk posted below.

All Our Patent Are Belong To You
By Elon Musk, CEO

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.

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.

See Anything You Like Here?  Go Ahead And Copy It

See Anything You Like Here? Go Ahead And Copy It

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.

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63 Comments on "Tesla CEO Elon Musk: All Our Patents Are Now Open Source"

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Thomas

Wow!

Guess you don’t need patents as a protection against lawsuits from others in the car market?

Big Solar

I guess not?

They still own the patents and could use them to defend themselves in a lawsuit. They are just openly saying they are not going to litigate against others who want to use them.

Other automakers that want to take them up would surely want something in writing (free license agreement) before they actually put them into a design.

It could affect their strategy for filing in the future.

Nix

Tesla made there patents “open source”, they didn’t abandon them. Big difference. Open source still has ownership, it is just the rights of usage that changes.

Mike I

This is fantastic. Tesla has grown into a mature enough state and has enough capital that they are no longer afraid of the competitive threat. Even if true competitors emerge, which is unlikely in the short term, the market will be big enough that Tesla can still thrive.

Spec9

Holy crap. That is crazy. And I say that as a patent attorney. They spent a LOT of money to get those patents. And I’d have to guess that many of those patents are worth millions.

And they are giving them ALL away? I . . . I am dumbfounded. I can’t believe the Board of Directors went along with this.

I wonder if they are going to continue filing for patents and are just giving the current companies a chance to catch up.

MTN Ranger

It’s still in Tesla’s best interest to submit new patents. Otherwise, competitors will get the patents and lock out Tesla (or arrange expensive licensing).

Evil Attorney

If Tesla makes their innovations public somehow, then no, someone else cannot come along and get a patent on it (in theory). You can only get a patent on something novel and nonobvious.

Anon

+1

Evil Attorney

While they obviously spent a lot of money on them (169 to date), I suspect that most of them are fairly specific/narrow and therefore fairly easy to design around. I suspect Musk is doing this to try an entice other companies into joining the Tesla charging standard. And by joining the charging standard, they would likely need to pay Tesla for use of the Superchargers.

Spec9

Patents are often hit & miss. Sometimes the technology moves in a different direction. Sometimes you don’t patent the best part. Sometimes the claims are poorly drafted.

But all it takes is one good patent to collect many millions of dollars. Maybe even billions over time. And since they were pioneering in a field that few others dared venture (or they were too small/poor to file for patents), I would have to guess that they have at least a few good patents in that portfolio.

I think this is about more than just the supercharger . . . they could have limited this action to just those patents if that was the intent. I think this is more about building up a larger EV industry to force down the costs of chargers, motor controllers, power semiconductors, batteries, etc.

Evil Attorney

Yes, batteries are the other side of this. If more companies are using off-the-shelf batteries like Tesla, they will surely buy them from the Gigafactories. So he could also be trying to build demand to lower prices.

Puzzlegal

even if other companies build their own stations, instead of licensing tesla’s, it’s a win for tesla. one of the barriers to buying is the dificulty of finding a charging station. more is better. being in a position to drive a commonly used standard is a win.

QCO

They are not giving them away per se…. Sounds like they intend to license them without charge under an open source agreement, much like what is done with certain software (eg GNU).

There may also be some reciprocity terms in that open source licensing agreement, but the removal of any infringement concerns should be a big boost to the whole Electrification Cause. And Elon knows a rising tide lifts all boats!

Spec9

They are not giving them away. They are pledging not to initiate a patent suit against anyone build EVs that may infringe on their patents. However, if you initiate a suit against them, they’ll fire back.

And it is something that is binding. Such a unilateral contract is allowed and if someone were to build an EV and Tesla now tried to sue them, a court would (mostly like) say that Tesla is estopped from enforcing the patent since others relied upon his pronouncement.

Dave R

Funny that you bring up GNU – because as far as I am aware Tesla has still not made GPL source available for GPL software shipping in their cars to owners.

In 1992, I started a dial-in bulletin board service. A short while later, my business parter and I split over the issue of staying proprietary (his position) or going open protocol / open source, and adopting Internet standards. At the time, my partner was adamant. I think he has a different view now.

This is disruption.

Sublime

Might as well. When they open up production plants in China, their patents won’t be worth the postage stamp they used to file them anyway.

Prepare for The Tesra.

Spec9

That’s trademarks not patents.

Rick Danger

I think that was a joke 🙂

Spec9

Not true. China does have a patent system. And even if you assume their patent system is a joke (which it may be), you can block imports into the USA of anything that infringes a valid patent.

Mark H

You just gotta love this guy. He surely wasn’t born to follow…

pjwood

Quiz: “you either lead, or get out of the way”

Evil Attorney

Right now, Tesla has 169 issued patents, which is a fairly small number for a car maker. I suspect that most of them could be fairly easily designed around by any other car manufacturer (e.g., Leaf and Volt probably don’t run afoul of any of these). Use of these patents would be most valuable if a competitor wanted to build an EV that was compatible with Tesla’s charging infrastructure. But even then, I suspect that company would need to work out a deal with Tesla anyway for supercharger usage (they must have some sort of authentication protocol, right?). And beyond that, Tesla’s success seems pinned on producing batteries in scale at cheaper prices, of which these patents have little impact on. So, not sure this hurts Tesla much, but not sure it really helps any other automakers produce EVs easier. The EV barrier for other automakers isn’t the patents, its the battery cost.

+1

At this point Musk seems confident that they can develop technology faster than the big boys anyway. They more they release EVs, the more people will learn about Tesla. He is confident they have the best product and will find plenty of customers.

Spec9

Oh this is definitely meaningful. Even if you assume that 98% of those patents are easy to design around or are garbage . . . 2 or 3 patents can be a huge roadblock. This action definitely reduces the business risks of someone that wants to start building EVs.

Evil Attorney

I’ve skimmed through many of their patents/claims and am skeptical that they have any EV deal breakers in there. If anything it may reduce the risk of building an EV by providing a relatively clear path through other companies patents (e.g., Nissan and GM). I am sure that both companies have WAY more EV related patents and it’s probably a minefield that Tesla’s lawyers have already navigated through. But if you more-or-less copy the Tesla drive/battery/charging structure, you’re relatively safe.

SeattleTeslaGuy

+1 I’ll go one step further. I bet most of their patents are not highly defensible. As others have said, they can probably also be designed around. I have a lot of experience on both sides of this issue.

However, I think any company that could use his patents would be wary of actually using them.

Based on how SpaceX works, I wouldn’t be surprised if the really important secret sauce of their battery system was a company secret and not a patent anyway. I haven’t (and won’t) read through all their filed patents. But the stuff that is super important, should not be published in any way.

Patents just help you clear the space you need to work in the marketplace. It doesn’t seem like the auto industry has been as aggressive in litigation as the cell phone industry anyway.

Spec9

Well, if you are trying to patent technology that deals with national security there is a special system wherein you can get secret patents that are not published. That could apply to rocket technology.

Ocean Railroader

It wouldn’t mater if he posted them on the side of a barn by the freeway in that the other car makers only want to build 80 mile range EV’s so it wouldn’t really mater.

Driverguy01

So why not push the idea and sell platforms (or make them) and put any body model that fits on it. That should be a quick enough process, if car makers cant do that, they should build something else!
We are going to need way more than just one gigafactories!

Brandon

I thought Nikola Tesla when i saw this

Anon

Very much the same spirit, but Elon’s a much better businessman. 🙂

Kosh

too soon to start building statues of Elon Musk?

Nix

Not too early, but they would need to be made of an appropriate material, like Oreo’s, or Fig Newtons. No bronze quite yet…

=)

Anon

3D metal printed, like SpaceX’s SuperDraco engines… 😉

I wonder how this will effect tesla stocks.

Aaron
Anon

They went down, but not by much.

Anon

The optimist in me thinks, “This marks the begining of a new enlightened corporate-human model, that will help humanity extend its viability and ultimately propel it into the stars– like dandelions on the wind”.

The pessimist in me thinks, “Other automakers will STILL refuse to stop playing dice with humanity’s future, because corporate greed will always triumph over altruism”. 🙁

Nelson

“Which automaker or who will be the first to make use of a Tesla patent? Which patent will it be?”

Truly million dollar questions!

NPNS! SBF!
Volt#671

QCO

A great place to begin would be the Tesla plug and charging protocol.

Finally a chance for a well designed universal compact high power AC/DC plug instead of the combo crap we’ve been fed by the committee “experts”.

The starting point would be a first supercharger agreement with another manufacturer, which leads to the Tesla socket being installed on that vehicle.

I wonder if an after-market company could take the Tesla patents and create a retrofit package for plug-ins. They could charge say $3500 for this; send $2000 to Tesla, and keep $1500 for themselves. The hardware would have to be set up so that the charging rate matched what the battery pack could do.

Spec9

Well, there is a good chance that many already are infringing on some of their patents. With big companies, they are infringing each other’s patents all the time. But as long as everyone plays fair, there is a general “gentleman’s agreement” that they don’t sue each other. Actually, it more like Mutually Assured Destruction . . . if they get into a lawsuit both sides will just pay lawyer millions of dollars, they’ll waste the time of their executives, they’ll get ugly press, etc. . . . so they generally avoid it.

Big Solar

Maybe infiniti can throw one of the platforms under their “electric luxury car”….

Andrei

I would like to be part of the Green Tesla Revolution

Jeff D

The first thing that came to mind when I saw this was how other car manufacturers come up with excuses for why they can’t build electric cars like Tesla can. Elon is basically taking away more of their excuses and really pushing them to either do something or be seen as the fakes they truly are. Toyota, now you can build electric cars like Tesla without a big agreement.

Pantarei

I haven’t really looked into it, but I believe most patents were actually JB Straubel’s. So if anyone is deserving of praise it’s him. Of course this move will hardly have any impact on EV production because the limiting factor was, and still is, energy density and cost of the battery pack, not it’s management or the electric drivetrain.

Spec9

Well I would presume that all his work is assigned to and owned by Tesla Motors.

Nix

Unless he has a contract stating otherwise, all work-product of any employee while acting as a paid employee of a business is owned by the business.

It is no different than if you worked as a plumber for a plumbing company, and showed up at someone’s house on the clock to do plumbing. You can’t switch and say that it is suddenly your work, and pocket the money for the job personally, and not hand that money over to the boss. (All while collecting a paycheck for being on the clock.)

If you are collecting a paycheck, the fruits of your labors belong to whomever is paying the paycheck for your labors.

jmac

Technological innovation is happening so rapidly that patents simply don’t mean as much as they used to.

from the beginning of the patent application until the actual granting of a patent can take as long as 5 years.

By that time, everybody has learned the latest dance step and either invented something better, or has copied or reverse engineered your design and is defiantly producing it in spite of various legal threats, the World Trade Association. etc.

The electric car community bitched and bitched about the fact that Chevron bought up the NiMh patents and sat on them for a decade.

So, now we have Musk saying “God Bless the EV Movement”.

Here’s our patents. Have at it gentlemen and may all your children find an electric car in their stockings at Christmas.

Spec9

Oh it really depends on the patent. Yes, the technology keeps moving. But most of time you are building upon the existing technology, not completely replacing it. So if you have a patent covering some fundamental method or device, a more advanced version of the same method/device may infringe the patent.

Kellybill

Genius Elon! Anybody can copy his tesla design. He owns the Mega Battery Factory and if you want to charge super quick, he will sell you the subscription to his supercharger.

Spec9

Technically, you can’t copy his design. That would be copyright infringement. But you can design and build your own electric car that infringes on Tesla patents.

ffbj

Not all that surprising really considering Musk is on a mission. (To help save the world). Fairly counter intuitive though when you consider all the high profile patent fights that have occurred in the last decade.
Of course yo have to be able to do something with the patents, which others have pointed out.
Still my prediction the 2014 will looked back on the year of the electric car is looking brighter.

Nix

All I can figure is that Elon has gamed out the next few years in his head, and concluded that the next generations of Tesla cars are going to be so compelling that they will sell everything they can build regardless of what anyone else does.

Either that, or he really just wants to change the world, even if it cuts into Tesla’s sales a bit.

Or both. I can’t decide. Either way, it really makes me want to get on a wait list to buy one of those elusive $35K Tesla’s.

Spec9

He wants to the change the world. Also, he wants more companies buying electric motors, motor controllers, chargers, batteries, and other EV components so that EV component prices go down. Tesla can’t do that alone.

jmac

Musk’s other company Space X hasn’t applied for patents either.

Musk says the basic problem is City Hall.

If the Russians copy something from Space X, what is Musk to do ? Sue Russia ? Even if he won, how is he going to enforce his patent infringement victory ?

Perhaps, Space X could talk the U.S. Government into declaring war on Russia, so that Musk and Space X can retrieve reparations for patent infringements ??

You see the problem……..

Lensman

Is Tesla Motors crazy to essentially give anybody who wants it a free license to use its patents?

Yeah– crazy like a fox. Apple kept its computer hardware proprietary. IBM licensed third parties to develop compatible hardware.
Within a few years, Apple had only 10%; IBM’s standard had most of the rest.

Tesla Motors wants to set the standards for EVs. It wants other companies to follow it; not see its market dwindle to a small niche, as Apple did with its Macintosh line.

Bill G.

+1. While others are scurrying to copy, Elon will be busy innovating. You need more than the patented designs to get everything to work together properly, as demonstrated by the Chinese reverse-engineered 747 that wouldn’t fly. When the public experiences a few failures of the mimics they’s revert to the real thing and buy a Tesla–probably a Gen III by that time. I’m hoping Tesla can gear-up fast enough to meet demand.

Everyone loves what you guys tend to be up too. This kind of clever work and coverage!

Keep up the awesome works guys I’ve added you guys to my personal blogroll.