Tesla to apply open source philosophy to its patents

Looks like Tesla CEO Elon Musk is taking a pretty big — albeit very vague — leap when it comes to the company’s patents. On Thursday Musk published a blog post on the company’s site that says Tesla will apply “the open source philosophy to our patents,” in order to help the small and slow-moving electric car market grow.

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.

The post lacks specifics, but Musk says directly: “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.” “In good faith” probably leaves them some wiggle room, given Tesla and Musk have never been shy about initiating lawsuits throughout the life of the company.

Tesla factor floor, image courtesy of Tesla.

Tesla factor floor, image courtesy of Tesla.

But the overall open source strategy is refreshing and a positive step for the electric car market, as well as a recognition that the patent system is weak and broken. Musk writes:

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.

In his pledge, Musk is following the example of other companies, which have adopted a defensive-only approach to patents. Google, for instance, is donating patents to protect the emerging cloud computing industry from the sort of lawsuits that have snarled the smartphone business. And Twitter has created an “Inventors Protection Agreement” by which the company assures its engineers it won’t turn around and weaponize their patents down the road.