Elon Musk is no stranger to innovation. The South African entrepreneur made his first fortune by helping to found PayPal. He also founded and is the Chief Executive and Chief Technology Officer of SpaceX, the world’s largest private space transportation company.
Musk is also the founder and Chief Product Architect for Tesla Motors, the increasingly popular all-electric car company.
Recently, Musk hinted that Tesla would be opening up some of its technologies to other electric car makers, specifically the patent surrounding their Supercharger vehicle charging stations.
Many critics accused Tesla of just trying to gain leverage in the electric car industry, saying that the move would essentially force other manufacturers to use Tesla charging stations, as well as having to make sure that their vehicles are compatible with the Tesla chargers.
However, Musk argued to the contrary when speaking with a journalist who asked about the issue recently:
“The intent of the Supercharger network is not to create a walled garden. Any other manufacturer that’s interested in using them, we’d be happy to accommodate. It’s just that they need to be able to accept the power level of the Superchargers, which is currently 135kW and rising, so any car needs to meet the Supercharger standard. And they’d also need to agree with the business model, which is we don’t charge people on a per-charge basis. They’d need to contribute to the capital costs proportional to their fleet’s usage of the network. So we think that’s pretty fair.”
Despite these reassurances, most critics were skeptical that Tesla would actually release any real intellectual property. But earlier today, Tesla surprised everyone by releasing all of their patents to the public.
Elon Musk wrote an open letter earlier today announcing the decision. It started like this:
“Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. 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.”
In the letter, Musk explains that when he started Tesla, he felt that patents were necessary to defend against the established car companies, who could copy the technology and use their, “massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power” to overwhelm smaller companies.
However, Musk goes on to explain that,
“The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.”
Musk continues by saying that Tesla’s true competition isn’t the few other small companies producing fully electric vehicles, but the massive volume of gas-burning vehicles being manufactured by the big car companies. He finishes the letter like this:
“We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.
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.”
You can read the full press release on Tesla’s website here.