In what seems to be a first of its kind open source license grant to the public, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced yesterday that Tesla will not initiate patent suits against any person or entity that will “in good faith” use their technology. According to the statement on Tesla’s corporate blog (the post title “All Our Patents Are Belong To You” a nice a pop-culture reference):
When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I 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.
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.
Being an IP lawyer who is, admittedly, more focused on the GC/Venture Capital side of things (rather than acquisition or enforcement), I have to agree with Musk. In the software industry especially, our clients’ investors view the patent portfolio as more of an obligatory — for tradition’s sake — but ultimately useless piece of the investment property.
Innovative industries will innovate and patents be damned. It is interesting to see a player in the far more “entrenched” automotive industry make such an entrepreneurial move.
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