Tesla's Elon Musk champions open source cars: 'All Our Patent Are Belong To You'


"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 founder Elon Musk posted the following to the Tesla blog this morning:

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.

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.

Notable Replies

  1. I wonder how long until big car companies start patent lawsuits against Tesla now that they've dropped out of the MAD deal that is the current patent system? One of the biggest reasons to build a patent portfolio these days is to have something to use against other companies that threaten to exercise their patents against you, making such legislation a no-win situation. That's why patent trolls are such a huge problem, because they don't make anything your own array of defensive patents are useless against them which is why they're running amok in the legal system.

    You basically can't make anything these days without running afoul of a few overly broad patents, especially not something like a car where there might be patents on stupid things like the shape of the pedal (yes, we thought of rectangles, you can't use them unless you pay us!) or the distance of the shifter from the driver's seat.

    Plus Tesla also includes what is basically a smartphone in each car, so they also have tech industry patent trolls to deal with.

    This move is going to play well online, but it could be disastrous for Tesla in the long run. Vigorous patent actions can seriously drag a company down. Look at RIM and what happened with the email to a phone patent.

  2. "Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology."

    They haven't actually alleviated themselves of their patents, they've just promised not to stop other people from building things with them. I'm sure using them as a counter-measure against others who would try to ruin their business is still in the cards if it comes to that.

  3. Why don't we just be gracious?
    Thanks Elon.

  4. Kimmo says:

    Fuck yeah, Elon Musk

    That is all.

  5. Increasing electric car use -> less pollution near us -> increased lifespans

    I dub thee the ELONgator!

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