Tesla Motors says: Take our patents, please

The electric car maker says it will give away its patents "in good faith" as an incentive to spur manufacturing in the electric car sector

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File
Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk talks about Tesla's new battery swapping program in Hawthorne, Calif., June 20, 2013.

Elon Musk has something he wants to give you: his company's patented technology. 

That's right, the chief executive of Tesla Motors, the electric car company, will let competitors use its patents, numbering several hundred, without the fear of triggering a lawsuit. In a blog post Thursday, Mr. Musk notes his reasoning for a decision that would ordinarily leave patent lawyers scratching their heads. 

Namely, that “annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars,” he says in the post. “It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis." 

Both Tesla's car technology and the technology for its supercharger stations (its chain of charging stations), will be available "in good faith" to competitors.

This decision goes along with the company's stated goal: showing that an electric car can be every bit as utilitarian and cool as a gasoline-fueled car. 

Musk says patents hinder progress and stand in the way of companies developing electric cars. 

"Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport," he says in the post. "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." 

Because so few companies are producing electric cars, Musk is confident that others' use of its technology will not hurt the Palo Alto-based company. In his view, the competition is not other electric car manufacturers, but rather "the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day." 

At major auto manufacturers, the amount of electric cars produced, or cars that burn no hydrocarbons, totals less than one percent. By opening up its patents, Musk hopes to reverse this trend. Granted, he recognizes that things won't change overnight. Rather, the move comes more as a symbolic gesture to begin moving an industry toward a spirit of greater cooperation in an effort to begin producing more zero-emission vehicles. 

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

In a conference call to explain his decision, Musk noted that Tesla will continue to secure patents for its future products so that other companies don't take the idea and patent it themselves, according to Forbes. Still, future patents will also be available for free. 

Musk also noted that his Hawthorne, Calif.-based space technology company SpaceX, for which he also serves as CEO, has "virtually no patents," yet remains competitive, according to the Los Angeles Times

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