Elon Musk tweets an important reminder of Tesla’s open patents

As Elon Musk has said many times, Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the electrification of transport. The company wants everyone to drive an electric car, even if it isn’t a Tesla. This is not just talk - in 2014, Tesla released its patents, making its patented technology available to anyone who wants to use it.


Above: In Tesla's factory, artwork pays homage to the Zero Wing gaming meme, "OEMs: All our patent are belong to you" (Source: 8 Bit Central)

“Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport,” wrote Elon in a blog post announcing the move. “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.”

Recently, with article after article after article underlining the seriousness of the climate change crisis, and the urgent need for action, Musk felt the need to remind everyone that these patents are available, and to reiterate his call for other automakers to get serious about going electric.

There are encouraging signs that some of them are at least considering beginning to think about doing so. Jaguar and Audi have compelling new electric crossovers coming to market, and many other automakers have announced plans for substantial new investments. However, despite the mainstream media’s credulous crowing about “Tesla killers,” the e-revolution is still just beginning, as Elon Musk acknowledged in a recent Twitter message.

“Exciting to see all the new electric vehicles coming to market! We created Tesla to accelerate a sustainable future & it’s happening!” the Iron Man tweeted. However, he qualified his excitement by repeating a statement he made in 2014: “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.”

Above: Model X rendering from one of Tesla's patents (Source: Tesla via Motor Beam)

There’s an interesting back story here: YourStory and NDTV both recently recounted the tale of how Musk’s attitude toward patents evolved over time. Back in 1995, when Elon and his brother Kimbal started an internet mapping company called Zip2 (as told in my history of Tesla), they worked hard to secure patents, but Elon takes a different view these days. “Maybe [patents] 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,” Musk wrote in 2014. “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.”

During the early days of Tesla, Musk and company still saw patents as a necessary defensive weapon against Big Auto. “At Tesla, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales, and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla,” Musk continued. “We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite; electric car programs...at major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1 percent of their total vehicle sales.”

Five years later, Tesla has expanded exponentially, but the major automakers’ production of plug-in vehicles has grown from a trickle to a slightly larger trickle. The goal of reducing the world’s fossil fuel consumption seems to be as far out of reach as ever. Tesla can’t get the job done alone, to say the least. As a recent article in Driving points out, since Model S was introduced in 2012, the additional emissions from increasing truck sales have wiped out the greenhouse gas reduction from the EVs Tesla has sold many times over.

Elon foresaw this back in 2014. “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,” he wrote. “We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”

Above: Elon Musk has openly expressed enthusiasm over automakers using Tesla's patents (Youtube: USA Today)

How ironic it is that, while so many auto pundits are convinced that Tesla fears competition from the legacy automakers, in fact the company is practically begging for them to do their worst - not out of bravado, but out of a sincere desire to address air pollution and climate change.


Written by: Charles Morris