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