Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has never been one to shy away from controversy, or grandiose gestures (see: the Hyperloop project). After hinting at the news this past weekend, Musk announced today that all of Tesla's patents are now open source.
In a blog post on the Tesla website, Musk explained his reasoning. Initially, Musk wrote, Tesla created patents because of a concern that large car companies would copy the company's electric vehicle technology and squash the smaller start-up. That turned out to be an unnecessary worry; carmakers have by and large decided to downplay EV technology while continuing to focus on gasoline-powered vehicles.
Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.
We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.
In a live webcast after the announcement, Musk added that he thinks patents are a "weak thing" for companies. "Patents means that a company isn't innovating fast enough. You want to be innovating so fast that you invalidate your prior patents," he said.
He also suggested that opening up patents for Tesla's supercharging technology (which essentially allows for super-fast EV charging) could help create a common industry platform.
There is precedent for the patent news. As Musk pointed out in the webcast, SpaceX—his space transport company—has virtually no patents.