A little more than a week ago, if you were to walk through the lobby of Tesla Motors – not that I ever have, but if one were – you would have admired a wall displaying hundreds of patents belonging to the company.
This week, however, it’s bare.
That’s because Tesla founder and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk has removed them “in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.” In a June 12 blog post, Musk declared that no longer would Tesla enforce protection on their patented technologies. Instead, the company plans to open the doors in hopes that other firms will enter, foster innovation and grow the electric vehicle market.
There are those who have scoffed at this news, believing Musk was embarking on a high-ride publicity stunt. It’s certainly true that Tesla and Musk have gotten the media’s attention. But more importantly, this has garnered more attention for the open source movement – a movement that has been stifled by patent trolls and hungry patent attorneys.
Musk elaborates on that point by writing that patents these days serve only to “stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.” He goes on to say that receiving a patent “really just means that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit.” A lottery that expenses millions in attorney fees and court costs is no winning one, and one I certainly wouldn’t want to be a part of.
Indeed, as the dust settles on this news it does appear that Tesla’s attempt at promoting electric car programs is paying off. It was reported by the Financial Times that BMW and Nissan, two of Tesla’s biggest rivals, are interested in pairing with the company to expand its network of charging stations throughout the United States. Indeed, investors seem to agree with the company that the network effect from having more electric cars on the road, and thus more charging stations, is more important than the monopoly rights granted by the patents. Tesla’s stock price soared to its highest point in months over the past week and a half.
Obviously, it’s going to take a lot more than one high-end car company standing up to say that they’re tired of the way the patent system works, especially on the infringement front, but Tesla is hopefully paving the way and opening the door for more major players to see that the open source movement can be a winning strategy for everyone involved. After all, has history ever proven that patents were a positive for innovation?