Tesla Motors Goes Open Source on All Electric Vehicle Patents

Tesla patent wall prior to removal

Tesla patent wall prior to removal
Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, opened up all of their patents for electric vehicle technology, removing them from display on their patent wall. Instead of protecting their intellectual property in court, he essentially said, "Here they are, go build electric vehicles." That's certainly not something you see every day and I doubt there's going to be any rush by other companies to follow suit.

Patents have been a mainstay of technical innovation for centuries, protecting inventors by allowing them exclusive right to profit from their intellectual labors for a period of time, but in recent years, the process has become a circus. In some cases the patent office appeared to be granting patents for long and already commonly used technology or, in other cases, some group would buy up old patents and proceed to sue everyone they could find where they could conceivably conjure a claim of possible infringement. Musk, in one move, tossed the whole system aside.

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.

No matter your views on patents, electric vehicles in particular or manufacturing of any sort, this is a move that will be talked about for a very long time. Will it result in a new expansion of electric vehicle technology and production? Will it be the beginning of a trend with companies of all types opening their patents to the world? It's far too soon to tell.

Software has gone the open source route for quite a few years and the often predicted disaster has yet to appear, and now, with large companies and fleets of lawyers able to find ways around patents if they so choose, they simply don't offer the protection they once did.

There's going to be a lot of commentary on this move in the weeks and months ahead, but seeing what happens in the electric vehicle industry will determine whether it was incredibly smart or horribly naive. I'm leaning toward smart.

Link: Tesla Motors


  1. Nicolas says

    Paypal, Tesla, SpaceX, 3 groundbreaking endeavours turning successful against the odds … that’s too much for just good luck or naivety. Mr Musk has proven time and time again that he’s a visionary business man, that has to be a smart move.

    • Paul Crowe says

      I tend to agree. In the electric vehicle business, there’s a lot more standing in the way of companies jumping into this field than not being able to use Tesla’s patents. You still need to make the investment, build a team of engineers, designers and technicians, build a factory, line up suppliers and on and on. What this does is remove the excuse some others might have. How many people buy “how-to” courses for all sorts of things and never actually “do” anything?

      Musk has also been trying to set up direct sales for Tesla cars and auto dealers everywhere are fighting to keep the old business model alive. He isn’t afraid to push the envelope in all directions. I like that.

      • says

        Its one thing to have money and another to be smart, but to understand the future tech and the integration of innovation partners is the KEY to open the door, without being greedy, we all win, the whole country, remember we need to export products not JOBS. A big thank you to Elon Musk we need more people thinking of the us and we not the I.
        David Sterrett
        Skyline Energy LLC

  2. says

    Interesting. That is significant on the “front-end” of the EV realization. On the “consumer end” I suspect there would be no barrier to EVs (that are built by other companies using Tesla patents) to use the Tesla re-charging stations?

    • Paul Crowe says

      I think Musk said something about that earlier where he wanted to expand the use of the stations to other vehicles, don’t have the reference at my fingertips, but I’m almost certain I saw it somewhere.

      • GenWaylaid says

        Musk’s comments about opening up the Supercharger standard apparently were made at the UK Tesla launch last week:http://www.engadget.com/2014/06/09/tesla-to-share-supercharger-patents/. I can’t find a video of the Q&A session to confirm this.

        Until this latest news broke, most of the speculation was that only the patents relating to the Supercharger standard would be open sourced. Those are still the most useful patents, because they provide access to charging rates far beyond what other standards offer. However, if you wanted to build a large, water-cooled battery pack, now you can skip a couple years of the learning process by using what Tesla found to work.

        I don’t know who will ultimately find the Tesla patents useful. Boutique makers of EV supercars? Electric motorcycle companies that want to expand into touring bikes? Exceptionally ambitious DIY EV builders?

        At any rate, I hope at least a few people try to take advantage of this opportunity to build their own “no excuses” EVs, while sharing their experiences in the spirit of open-source. Patents don’t contain all the necessary information for such an ambitious built, but they’re a good start.

  3. FREEMAN says

    Patents have been twisted into a barely recognizable form of what they once were. Good for Tesla for not getting drawn into the endless foray of patent wars.

  4. says

    Good for Tesla for taking the lead on open standards… This is what IBM did to kick off the personal computer.

  5. Jax LeBoite says

    Seeing as electric vehicles (an advert for the 1904 Studebaker touting 40 miles before recharging and no chauffeur needed) have been around a long time, it would be hard to argue that your patents should hold up. Much like in Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”. It would seem to make sense, business wise, to get the infrastructure up and rolling and let consumers buy the vehicles of their choice. Also, Musk could do much like the Mercedes commercials of years ago where Mercedes says they “gave away” the patents and technology that make cars safer. It is genius and great business acumen all rolled into one great magnanimous act.

  6. Randy says

    The devil is in the details. And patents usually leave out a lot of important details. I wonder how much a small outfit could get from these patents?

  7. JR says

    I have to wonder why Tesla bothered to patent anything. Will they continue to do it now or just keep their good ideas private?

  8. JR says

    OK, but if they don’t file for patents and enforce them, don’t they run the risk of someone else getting a patent on a Tesla idea? Other people aren’t going to play along with this and Tesla could possibly run the risk of having to pay for patent licensing to use their own ideas, no?

  9. Paulinator says

    I see Teslas all the time, as there’s a service center down the street. The cars are gorgeous. I hope that Tony Stark….I mean Elon Musk….is close to perfecting an efficient battery made from non-toxic / readily-available materials, because the current rare-earth technology is not a long-term solution. Once he cracks that puzzle, the future of our planet will look a lot brighter.

  10. paolo tiramani says

    They are building a GIANT battery factory ergo the open source patents. Its simpler, easier, more profitable and less risky for Tesla to sell batteries then cars, net gain for Tesla its a simple calculation
    Musk is a genius