While every other car company in the world is keeping its patents sealed, locked and vaulted, Tesla is doing the opposite. In a bold move that it hopes will drive the production of electric cars, Tesla has opened up its patents and is now allowing anyone to freely use its technology in good faith.
This is simply one of the many crazy genius decisions that made Tesla chief executive Elon Musk an iconic figure in the auto industry. Noting that carmakers are producing up to 100 million cars every year and that there are approximately 2 billion cars roaming the streets of the world, Musk said in a statement that it is virtually impossible for Tesla alone to "build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis."
Originally, Tesla filed its patents to protect the startup auto manufacturer from bigger industry players using the same technology and swallowing up Tesla in its entirety. However, "we couldn't have been more wrong," said Musk, noting that sales of electric cars in other companies do not even constitute 1% of its overall earnings.
"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," Musk wrote in a blog post. "Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology."
In a conference call to elaborate the decision to make patents available to the public, Musk said he specifically hopes that car companies will invest in the development of batteries with smaller cells similar to that used by Tesla, which uses a laptop-battery cell with the lowest cost per kilowatt hour.
Other car manufacturers are already taking heed. Musk said he already met with executives of BMW, maker of the plug-in hybrid i8 sports car and the electric hatchback i3, to discuss plans of sharing Tesla's nationwide Supercharger network of high-speed charging stations. He also suggested BMW to build its own charging infrastructure and possibly even a massive gigafactory similar to that being constructed by Tesla to produce electric car batteries.
Tesla is based in Silicon Valley, where the sharing of technologies has led to the development of open-source software such as Linux operating system and Mozilla Firefox browser. In the car industry, however, manufacturers guard their patents as closely as a mother dragon guards her eggs.
When asked whether he thinks opening up Tesla's electric car technology will benefit the company financially, Musk was basically unconcerned. He said that although patents have their place in a healthy industry, "far too much energy" is being spent on "patents that do not foster innovation." He believes that freeing up Tesla's patents will "strengthen rather than diminish Tesla's position."
"There is no competitive disadvantage. If anything, it shows confidence that they will maintain a competitive lead over other electric vehicle producers," says Craig Irwin, analyst at Wedbush Securities. "They are saying, 'Listen, we are not going to put up roadblocks for people who want to chase us.'"
Still, if Tesla's move isn't entirely altruistic in nature, it definitely stands to create a win-win situation for its business and for Mother Earth.
Tesla is known for producing the Roadster, considered to be the world's best electric sports car, and its electric luxury sedan, the Model S.