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Here's why Elon Musk reminded the world about Tesla's patents being available for good use

Vishal Krishna
3rd Feb 2019
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Elon Musk released Tesla's patents four years ago for the world to speed up electric vehicle technology. Last week, he reiterated that mankind should be able to share knowledge and not hide it behind the walls of large corporates. There was a reason he came out on social media about protecting the environment.

Elon Musk
Tesla Founder and CEO Elon Musk. (Image: Flickr)

This past week, the polar vortex saw temperatures plummet across the northern hemisphere. Several parts of the US were reportedly colder than Antarctica. Eight people were killed as a result and flights across northern and western America were cancelled. It prompted Tesla Founder Elon Musk to tweet a reminder about the need to look hard at sustainable energy in a bid to save the planet.

All of this has a back story. Musk warned everyone of the changes happening thanks to gasoline cars way back in 2014. Back then he only wanted to ensure that the world understands the value of sharing patents and why the world could be a better place if one opened up patents that were otherwise locked in corporate vaults for years.

Now here is why only Elon Musk can make the world think of how to make our planet a better place. Tesla finished 2018 with an 83 percent share of the U.S. battery-electric vehicle market, Musk told reporters this week. The last time this happened was when when the Ford Model T was launched 100 years ago.

 

Tesla now plans to increase production of the Model 3 and also plan the launch of three new product lines in 2019. However there are serious contenders. Automaker like Zotye and Acura are plugging into electric vehicles, with industry analysts expecting to see nearly a dozen new all-electric vehicles in U.S. showrooms by the end of 2019, with dozens more coming to market in 2020. Jaguar, Mercedes and Volkswagen are working on cars that can give Tesla a real run for their money.

But for Musk, market share is secondary. He wants the world to use his technology and build solutions that can save the planet. To know more one must go back to the blog he put out in 2014, where he said:

“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."

His blog post also said, “Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. 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. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”


Also read: The good, the bad, and the outrageous: 10 times Elon Musk made news in 2018


In an age where technology is patented as soon as it is invented, Elon Musk’s philosophy seems formidable – and thought provoking.

He had said that when he started out with his first company, Zip2, he thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. “And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations, and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible,” he wrote.

In fact, the early Tesla was all about patents as Musk went after them to protect himself from large corporations.

“At Tesla, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales, and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite; electric car programmes (or programmes for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1 percent of their total vehicle sales,” he added on the blog.

Musk took a dig at conventional automakers for producing electric cars with limited range and volume. The electric vehicle technology and business is huge. Unfortunately, pointed out Musk, with annual new vehicle production at 100 million per year, “it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis”.

“We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform,” Musk had written.

Clearly, to Musk, life is about making big changes around us. “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,” he stated on his blog.

The serial entrepreneur has set a precedent, but will others follow suit and change the way companies function?


Also read: Elon Musk recommends an 80-hour work week. Are Indian entrepreneurs working just as much?


 

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