Tesla Patent Giveaway Spurs Speculation Of Possible Deal With BMW

Jun 13 2014, 5:02am CDT | by

Tesla’s generous sounding technology sharing move was seen as more self-interest than charity, and also sparked speculation that a long-term deal with BMW of Germany might be possible.

Earlier this week, Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk said he would open up the companies technology patents to all-comers.

“Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology,” Musk said.

Tesla reportedly hasn’t patented some its most important technologies, and their secrets would remain in-house.

The thinking was that it would be better for a small, upstart car manufacturer like Tesla if other competitors were able to make electric vehicles more ubiquitous and this would make them more acceptable to a bigger buying public. It might also help competitors turn away from the move towards fuel cell vehicles.

BMW, which is selling a small electric city car the i3, and is about to launch the i8 plug-in hybrid supercar car, might share its lightweight carbon fiber technology with Tesla, and its production expertise.

“We view the decision as a smart one by Tesla CEO Elon Musk as we believe it will expedite further EV (electric vehicle) development and encourage others to follow Tesla’s technology glide path – we believe it is important that Tesla does not become a technology outlier. Separately, it also revealed that Tesla has held discussions with BMW. We would view any collaboration as exciting given both companies’ innovative approach to alternative drive vehicles,” said Arndt Ellinghorst, analyst with London-based International Strategy and Investment (ISI).

Earlier today, BMW said it had met Tesla to talk about potential collaboration on electric vehicles, but declined to reveal details.

Ellinghorst said it was often the most widely adopted technology and not the best, that was accepted, citing the Microsoft versus Macintosh class in the 1990s and VHS versus Betamax in the 1980s. He said Tesla was believed to be the only car company looking to develop the so-called 18/650 cell format with others using larger format cells, or like Toyota, jumping right over battery only and going straight for fuel cells. Fuel cells wouldn’t need an expensive and extensive re-charging network.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas had a mixed view of Musk’s plan.

“We see this as a genuine move to spur industry development of EVs as well as a calculated marketing and PR (public relations) strategy,” Jonas said.

Jonas said Tesla would benefit from widespread competitor application of its battery format and charging infrastructure, although he didn’t expect any major manufacturers to take advantage. Jonas agreed that many manufacturers are getting more excited by fuel cells than battery-only.

ISI’s Ellinghorst didn’t see the release of Tesla patents as a threat to the company.

“We are under the impression that Tesla does not patent many of its more secretive technologies, thereby keeping the information and “know-how” exclusively within the company,” Ellinghorst said.

Some kind of deal with BMW was a tasty prospect.

“We believe collaboration between BMW “i” and Tesla could prove a powerful combination, with BMW lending its expertise in, as well as potentially the supply of, carbon fiber technology and Tesla in turn assisting BMW with electric powertrain development and supporting infrastructure, “Ellinghorst said.

Toyota of Japan owns 2.4 per cent of Tesla and Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler has 4.3 per cent./>/>


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