Tesla Goes Open Source: Elon Musk Releases Patents To 'Good Faith' Use

Jun 12 2014, 12:30pm CDT | by

Elon Musk has always been a rebel. Now he’s an open source rebel.

While many in Silicon Valley have railed against patent wars in recent years, and some have lobbied Washington to reform patent law, Tesla’s taking an unprecedented step of opening all its electric car patents to outside use.

In a blog post on Thusday, Musk said Tesla has removed the patents decorating the wall of the company’s Palo Alto headquarters — a symbolic move to coincide with this announcement. Tesla’s billionaire cofounder and CEO writes that the company “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

This is a reversal in policy for Tesla, as Musk describes:

“We felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the 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 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 says that the new open source policy’s goal is to help stem climate change. He writes: “It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis.”

Of course, there may also be a silver lining for Tesla. Musk says “the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.” This may be true — but it could also aide Tesla’s rate of adoption. It may encourage other companies to start building charging stations and other products that would support Tesla’s growth.

It’s also unclear exactly what using Tesla’s patents in “good faith” means. If Ford or GM decided to use the patents to create their own Tesla knockoffs, it seems unlikely Musk would let that slide. What if it’s a rival start-up instead? There are many unanswered questions.

Tesla has partnered with other automakers in the past. For example, it has supplied battery packs to Toyota.

Tesla stock is up about 1% on the day, although it has been falling in afternoon trading.

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