Taking a page from the open-source movement that gave the world the Linux operating system, Tesla Motors founder and CEO Elon Musk announced Wednesday that the company would not pursue lawsuits against anyone who wants "in good faith" to use the company's proprietary electric car technologies.
"Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters," Musk said in a blog post. "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."
Musk said that Tesla originally created patents to keep the big car companies from copying Tesla's technology and then overwhelming it with their much larger sales and manufacturing resources. But, Musk said, "We couldn't have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric programs ... at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent."
Electric cars comprise less than 1 percent of vehicles sold annually.
Tesla's true competition is not the trickle of non-Tesla electric cars, Musk said, "but the enormous flood a gasoline cars pouring out of the world's factories every day."
Musk said that as number of cars approaches 2 billion globally, it would be impossible for Tesla alone to build electric cars fast enough to address the crisis in carbon emissions and its contribution to global warming. An open source platform for electric car technology, he argues, would accelerate the process.
"We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world all benefit from a common, rapidly evolving technology platform," Musk said.
The Wall Street Journal speculated that behind Musk's motivation was "the recognition that intellectual property as a competitive advantage is ephemeral at best." The newspaper cited Facebook and Goldman Sachs as examples of companies that are contributing to open-source projects to encourage the build-out of common infrastructure while keeping only those technologies that create an actual competitive advantage.
Musk seems to agree.
"Technology leadership is not defined by patents ... 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."