Gamechanger from Tesla?
Patents are completely out of control in the US. According to many commentators, the proliferation of patents in the US is no longer a sign of economic development but a blight on progress. Several years ago The American Life did an excellent podcast on patent trolls, companies expressly set up to buy patents for the sole purpose of suing other companies for perceived infringement. Where once patents were intended to protect the rights of investors of actual inventions, today anything can be patented, even the idea of something yet to be invented can be subject to patent. Companies like Google and others have been known to pay billions of dollars to buy up patents simply as a preventative measure against being sued in the future.
Into this mess, where Congress has only recently once again failed to legislate serious patent reform, enters Elon Musk of Tesla who with one executive decision may have changed the landscape.
Tyler Cowen comments “I believe that this announcement will be discussed in business schools for years to come much like Henry Ford’s announcement of the $5 a day wage.”
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. …
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.