When founding a company intent on becoming a brand leader in electronic automobile production, it was no mistake that Elon Musk, the visionary behind the now-ubiquitous online payment clearinghouse PayPal and private space consortium SpaceX, named his company after Nikola Tesla, a man whom many regard as the father of electricity. In fact, presenting Tesla with an award, the Vice President of the Institute of Electrical Engineers stated, “Were we to seize and eliminate from our industrial world the result of Mr. Tesla’s work, the wheels of industry would cease to turn, our electric cars and trains would stop, our towns would be dark and our mills would be idle and dead. His name marks an epoch in the advance of electrical science.”
On Thursday, Elon Musk announced a change in the way Tesla will conduct business that mirrors another trait of the namesake for his company. In an open letter on the company’s blog, Musk renounced every patent the company now holds stating, “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”
If you have been paying attention to the world of technology, specifically as it pertains to software and hardware development, you are most probably aware of the open source movement. The idea is that a community of organizations and individuals work together to make a potentially good product or platform a great one. The technology is then open and available to anyone who wants to use it or build upon it at no cost. It should come as no surprise that Musk, who cut his teeth in the tech world, wants to take that model and apply it to a new industry in a novel way.
The concept of patenting belongs to a bygone era, according to Musk. Where once they were a useful protection, he now sees them only as an inhibitor to innovation and progress. A patent, he contends, serves to entrench a large corporation to a staked out position around their intellectual property and ultimately only enriches members of the legal profession and not the inventors themselves. “I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit,” Musk explained.
A primary reason Musk offered for this bold move had less to do with his worrying about if and how it might harm his company and more to do with furthering the mission that led him to create the company in the first place. “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,” he lamented. “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 percent of their total vehicle sales.” Opening his company’s technology to all will, he hopes, finally spur the renaissance toward electric automobile supremacy.
The move to an open source model may have been born from other motives as well. The ion-battery technology that allows Tesla’s electric vehicle to travel more than double the distance of its nearest competitor is soon to be manufactured in-house by the automaker. If other companies, using the newly released technologies, begin production of their own electric vehicle offerings, Tesla could potentially produce the ion-battery at a far cheaper rate, due to increased volume of production.
Additionally, by beckoning other automakers into the market, Tesla could potentially enter into partnerships to offset the costs of their strategically placed recharging stations where Tesla owners can recharge the vehicle for free. In fact, Kenn Sparks of BMW confirmed to the Associated Press that they and Tesla had been in meetings just this week discussing the topic of supercharging stations where a 50 percent charge on the battery can be achieved in just 20 minutes.
For those not wholly convinced by this open source strategy, one need only look to the competitive advantages achieved by other companies who have effectively opted to give away their technologies. As cited by the Associated Press, Google, which spent millions of dollars designing their Android platform, decided to make the software available to any developer at no charge. Google saw more value in expanding the mobile market and ensuring their search engine and other digital services supported by advertising were prominently featured. As a result, the Android platform has surpassed Apple’s iOS as the most widely used operating system, currently on more than 1 billion devices.
Musk believes the release of their patents to the general public will ultimately appeal to the best and brightest minds out there, attracting them to want to work with Tesla. “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,” he explained. “We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.”
One thing is patently clear with this announcement and that is that the electric automobile market just became a must watch space over the coming 12 to 18 months.
photo credit: Sergio Moratilla via photopin cc
(originally published at redOrbit.com)