back to article Car titans WON'T STEAL our tech, says Musk: DAMNIT, I'll GIVE IT to 'em

Tesla boss Elon Musk has announced that the electric car company is opening up its patent portfolio for use by rival carmaking firms. The PayPal/SpaceX/Tesla tycoon said that the firm will make its patent holdings available to others and will not file suit against companies who use its patented technology in what Musk terms " …

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  1. oolor

    And not a word about all are patents?

  2. Mikel

    Brass ones

    This is how you "jump start" the electric car. I think this is going to accelerate adoption.

    1. asdf Silver badge

      Re: Brass ones

      Yep perhaps a brilliant long term business move made at the expense of some short term profits. Don't see that much these days.

    2. oolor

      Re: Brass ones

      Not to mention it will solidify him as the manufacturer and charger of batteries. Methinks this is the real objective.

      1. Steven Raith

        Re: Brass ones

        If it gets more charging points and cheaper batteries out there, that's of benefit to everyone.

        Imagine london taxis and buses getting Tesla-class leccy motors and batteries with rapid charge points at every rank because the manufacturers applied for a fair use free licensing agreement, rather than having to pay extra on top for it - which could be a massive sum given Teslas experience, testing and R+D knowledge, and far too much for them to do it themselves from scratch. Bang, half the air pollution in London gone in one fell swoop, without someone having to design it all from a clean sheet to avoid being suballed out of existence.

        I'm not too interested in electric cars as yet, but when they become second hand, wouldn't a standardised battery connector and form factor be nice, rather than having to pay Peugot £3000 for their own proprietary battery pack that they'll stop supplying after fifteen years, and having to install their specific brand of high current charger because of a proprietary control system used to moderate current, replacing your existing VW group one?

        By the sounds of it, this 'good faith' agreement means Fuji Heavy Industries could apply to continue production of Tesla-esque packs for the aftermarket, rather than a manufacturer killing supply because it's not financially viable for them to continue production, when they need the capacity from their primary cell manufacturer to make the batteries for the 2025 model of choice.

        What Musk has done is the first real piece of genuine technological altruism I can think of since the open source software movement started.

        It could be a massive gamechanger. If it's not, then it's back to waiting for a tenfold increase in battery capacity/motor efficiency I suppose...

        Steven R

  3. asdf Silver badge

    only thing missing is the red and gold armor

    Elon Musk is Tony Stark

    1. phil dude
      Coat

      Re: only thing missing is the red and gold armor

      Not until he gets the tidy goatee....

      P.

  4. dan1980

    A company that professes a (comparatively) altruistic goal and then actually acts in accordance with said goal?

    Quick - does anyone see a white horse?

    1. Captain DaFt

      With or without a horn?

      1. dan1980

        @Captain DaFt

        I was thinking more along the lines of carrying a rider wearing a crown and holding a bow.

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      "A company that professes a (comparatively) altruistic goal and then actually acts in accordance with said goal?"

      Maybe his motto should be Do No Evil?

  5. Kharkov
    Angel

    Wow!

    Ok, first, way to go, Elon! That is an act of dedication to getting more electric cars out there. Tesla could keep making electric cars, more and more each year and gradually fill the market with electric cars, keeping a majority holding of the market but it would take years.

    So he's doing this to get more car companies to make electric cars - ballsy!

    Second, he's going to annoy some of his financial backers who only think short-term - risky!

    But remember, Elon is about to build a gigafactory for batteries. With that kind of lead then demand for his batteries will shoot up.

    All in all, he's avoiding the conservative, well-traveled path that most businesses follow and may well do what Elon has always tried to do - change the way things are done to a better, faster, cheaper way.

    Kudos!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As the Spanish would say...

    ...con dos pares de cojones, el tío.

    Well done indeed.

    /Tesla stockholder.

  7. DougS Silver badge

    This is nice but

    It is going to be hard for someone to get funding for a business that uses Tesla patents based on that "good faith" language. That's as legally binding as Google's "do no evil", and we've seen how they've distanced themselves further and further from that as the years go by.

    I'd like to think Tesla would not mind if someone used their patents and successfully competed against them, but even with Musk himself pledging this Tesla is a publicly traded company, and if the shareholders demanded action against a cheaper competitor who was eating their lunch using their patents, and I think we'd find the definition of "good faith" stretched bit by bit.

    1. Eguro

      Re: This is nice but

      Isn't patent law made in such a manner, that if you do not uphold your patent you forfeit it (or am I thinking of TM?)

      Such that we just need a single company to very publicly make use of the patents for a short while. Once not action is taken against that company, the patents are forfeit

      1. Cliff

        Re: This is nice but

        I suspect it'll be implemented in the form of low-cost or free licences

      2. dan1980

        Re: This is nice but

        @Eguro

        Yes - that's trademarks.

        The reason being that the purpose of a trademark is to identify a product/company/service in the marketplace as different from other offerings. If you don't enforce that, then the point of having it is negated.

        With patents you are under no obligation to 'protect' them and there is no legal reason why you can't let a dozen companies infringe and then go after the thirteenth.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This is nice but

          From the article it sounds like this is an attempt to enlist other companies into developing a market that currently isn't really going anywhere, and that as soon as any serious competitor arrives to threaten Tesla it'll be back to business as usual for them - which means paying for licences at best, being blocked from using the patents at worst. Any manufacturer would need a hell of a lot more certainty than a vague "good faith" criterion for not being sued before they committed to developing products that infringe extant Tesla patents.

          1. 0laf Silver badge
            Black Helicopters

            Re: This is nice but

            Maybe this is to bootstrap the current ev market. The patents he's referring to now are probably toast but it doesn't mean he's going to make all future patents open.

            Get the market going, profit from battery and charger technology then license future developments to the now established ev market. Long term thinking, the man isn't daft.

        2. Mark #255

          Re: This is nice but (@dan1980)

          ...let a dozen companies infringe and then go after the thirteenth

          I daresay a defence of Laches would be swiftly brought in by No 13's lawyers.

          (IANAL, TINLA, etc etc)

          1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

            Re: This is nice but @Mark #255

            My reading of it is that laches would only apply if they'd sat on their arse for several years before suing the 13th company. If they sue as soon as they become aware then it's no defence.

      3. Oninoshiko

        Re: This is nice but

        "Isn't patent law made in such a manner, that if you do not uphold your patent you forfeit it (or am I thinking of TM?)"

        You are thinking of TMs. TMs can be lost for not using them, not defending them, or no longer being distinctive to the brand (becoming generic).

        Patents can only be lost by overturning them in court (which in theory should never happen, sadly though...) or expiring.

    2. DaLo

      Re: This is nice but

      Oh come on, do you really think any company would be that Naive?

      Firstly if a company was going to spend that much money developing a car using Tesla's patents they would approach Tesla and ask for it in writing that they can use them, probably in the form of a Patent License agreement with no cost. No manufacturer is just going to start using someone's patent based solely on a second-hand news report that it was okay.

      Secondly, if a company publicly states (directly) that they will allow others to use their patents then tried to sue for using them then, even in the US there would be little hope of a sympathetic judge.

      Lastly, Elon's name would be mud if he then renegades on this and I'm pretty sure reputation is very important for him. Not completely impossible but unlikely to be his strategy (look at Oracle for instance)

  8. AndrewG
    WTF?

    Publicity Stunt

    So after proving hes running a company thats an answer to a question that no-ones asking, he's happy to allow other non-competitors to use the patients for a market they aren't interested in.

    Tesla and Hyperloop are just a waste of time, SpaceX shows promise, but only becasue hes competing in an industry that needs a serious antimonopoly shake up.

    1. dan1980

      Re: Publicity Stunt

      Tesla is a waste of time? I suppose that depends on what you value.

      If nothing else, they have helped advance lithium-ion battery development substantially in partnership with Panasonic. Not to mention that they are building infrastructure that will help boost adoption of electric vehicles. Their example has served as a catalyst for other makes to accelerate their own electric car production (e.g. the Volt) and they have tested the waters to show that the market is viable.

    2. DaLo

      Re: Publicity Stunt

      "So after proving hes running a company thats an answer to a question that no-ones asking"

      So no one is asking "what are we going to do for fuel as oil reserves start to become depleted?" or "how would a dramatic enforced shortage of oil by OPEC affect the economy?" or "if man-made global warming is true how can we reduce our reliance on it especially if taxes are punitive on oil burning vehicles?" or "isn't is ridiculous how expensive it is to run a car in Europe now-a-days?" etc

      There are plenty of questions being asked about the future of petrol and diesel vehicles, if you think there isn't then you must have been asleep for the last 20 years.

      Electric has the advantage that once cars are "generally" battery powered the raw source of that electricity can be decided by the politicians, the environmentalists, the economists etc. Whether that is more nuclear, wind, tidal, solar, coal, gas, fusion etc All the cars get an automatic upgrade to using that new source at the same time.

      Could it be that the actual issue is that the petroleum industry has a little bit too much sway and too much invested to see it disappear? Or that car manufacturers have too much invested in combustion engines and aren't always the quickest to adapt to change especially on such a large risk for them (many European vehicles manufacturers can't even afford the expense of a new regular chassis and wheelbase so they often share a similar platform and have a lot of mergers)?

      The main issues with electric cars has been the range, the batteries and the "chicken and egg" lack of chargers en route. If a car has a 200 mile range and there was a decent network of rapid chargers then most people could work to that. Day-to-day commutes would be within range and longer trips could be broken up with lunch or a break at an appropriate location.

      Elon Musk at least has the guts to try to address this and has the balls to do it without whinging that the government should stump up all the cash or the industry will fold. He's put his money where his mouth is and decided to give it a shot, it might eventually fall short but the thinking is sound.

      1. Alister Silver badge

        Re: Publicity Stunt

        It's all very well pushing for higher use of electric cars, as opposed to i/c engined vehicles, but no-one seems to be considering that the electricity has to come from somewhere.

        Here in the UK the government is already proposing measures to curb the use of electricity. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/06/10/uk_preps_ww2style_energy_rationing/

  9. silent_count

    It's a sad indictment upon our world that when a CEO suggests that his company might refrain from using IP law to stifle competition, he's lauded as an altruist.

    Tesla has a big slice of the electric car flavoured pie. Mr Musk is willing to exchange that for a slightly smaller piece of (what he'd like to be) a far larger pie. Potentially trading away some of his IP to get there is merely the means, not the end.

    However, I suppose that "CEO wants to use his IP to make (even more) money" doesn't sound as impressive.

    1. stuartnz

      To be fair, most of the coverage has been much more of the "enlightened self-interest" type than " aww, altruism" type. It's the "enlightened" bit that's making him so exceptional, and that IS sad. The fact that so few others can grasp the concept that making the pie bigger is good for both piemakers and consumers is an indictment of our times. Also, corporate behaviour in regard to all things IP is so insane today that a quiet statement of moderation really does sound like a breath of fresh, rational, air.

    2. James Hughes 1

      @silent_count

      I'm not sure what your point is.

      As far as I can see, Musk wants to increase the size of the leccy car market, so he can sell more cars, and make more money. And I'm fine with that, because it means that (almost) EVERYONE WINS. Because as the size of the leccy car market increases, the tech improves, the prices drop, and the man on the street will be able to afford what, at the moment, is an expensive luxury.

      So don't fixate on the Musk makes money bit - that just how the world works - someone, somewhere is going to make some money*. You need to look at the whole picture.

      * I'd prefer that person to be Musk who spend his cash on rockets, rather than some banker/codger/FTSE CEO who stashes it away for his own benefit.

      1. silent_count

        @James Hughes 1

        I don't have a problem with Mr Musk making money. May it bring him joy and may he make lots more. And furthering the state-of-the-art for electric cars and bringing them closer to a mass market reality are both good things. I have no complaint about any of that.

        What does get on my nerves though is that a substantial number of my fellow countrymen apparently can't spot the difference between enlightened self-interest and altruism. One of the reasons I read El Reg is that the people here thankfully aren't quite so credulous.

  10. stu 4

    what patents ?

    Everyone seems to be taking it as read that they have such an important bunch of patents ?

    They may do, but I'd like some facts here. I don't see anything revolutionary in the technology of the tesla - it's just the same as in the leaf, etc : lipos, brushless motors and lots of parallel charging. pretty much scaled up modern RC tech.

    The fact other manufacturers ARE building leccy card like the leaf, etc suggests they can do so fine without the patents. And suggests that the REAL reason we are not snowed under with electric cars, is that the technology simply isn't there yet.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: what patents ?

      There was a piccy on Twitter yesterday of the patent wall as Tesla. It was covered.

      Now it isn't.

      As to how good those patents are? Dunno. But a patent doesn't have to be revolutionary to be important/critical.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: what patents ?

      I think it's more than just "use our patents", it's more of an expression of "look how we are doing things, we're investing a lot in R&D and we don't mind if you copy what we are doing even if there is a patent involved."

      Use the same batteries, same chargers, get the same range in our cars and then the transition to electric cars can be sped up by decades rather then spending the first 15 years having a standards war with 15 different charging stations and overpriced batteries as there needs to be 20 different types.

      It would be even better as an "open source" type approach so that any significant development sby other manufacturers are fed back into the pool of knowledge without patent restrictions - we can, but dream.

  11. M7S

    How "available" is this information? Is it only to established automakers?

    As if not then there could (and hopefully should) be quite a cottage industry forming as we all head to our sheds.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: How "available" is this information? Is it only to established automakers?

      I guess you could read the patents...they should be public. (AFAIK)

  12. RetroTom
    Thumb Up

    Excellent news

    Use the knowledge and experience gained from your R&D to create better products than the competition, even if others do copy you still have that edge, if you have confidence in your product then you don't need to protect it with endless lawsuits against competitors.

    This should also help standardize things, another win for the consumer, the technology can be embraced without fear from both the point of view of the manufacturer and any buyers - if your kit is all made to certain standards it's going to be easier to replace if it fails.

    Other parts of the tech industry (holding far more trivial patents) could learn a thing or two from this.

  13. 2Fat2Bald

    It makes sense. At the moment he's got a very good brand. It could sell a hell of a lot of cars - but it won't whilst there is no charging infrastructure and that won't get build just to service Tesla's market. So it may be better to get other manufacturers involved and have 10percent of a few million car sales, rather than 90 percent of a few thousand a year.

    The whole thing is chicken-and-egg. Cars won't sell whilst there are no charging stations between cities. People won't build the charging stations whilst there are no cars to use them.

  14. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
    Coat

    This certainly

    .... says a lot about confidence Musk has in Tesla technology. By contrast, it also says how insecure other large companies feel about their products.

    The one with apple in the pocket, please.

  15. jnffarrell1

    Public consensus is needed for public roads

    It's about public infrastructure not cars: 1) fast charging stations work 2) in the time it takes to relieve yourself, and buy a cup of coffee your cars is recharged 3) only camels can go more than 3 hours without bed pans in the car 4) ATV users and real SUV users are free to experience the thrills of driving off the beaten path with internal combustion engines.

  16. Alistair Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Elon doing his thing.

    Good news, we can now go through and use Tesla's R&D in a collective manner to improve electric cars. (cooperative scientific progress is faster than solo!)

    I just hope that someone somewhere is paying attention at the electrical infrastructure level -- at least here in the True North Strong and Free, we'll need some serious updating to our electrical infrastructure to meet the demands of more than 15% or 20% of vehicles being electric, and based on the fast charger concepts. Especially in HydroOne territory, where they've basically left the infra to rot since it was outsourced to private business.

  17. system11

    So how many fossil fuel burning powerplants is the UK going to have to push back into service to get all the clean electric cars running? Eventually this will have to happen but do look at where the pollution simply shifted to.

    Need more nuclear. Now.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      While agreeing that that we need more nuclear ASAP, to play devils advocate for a moment, if every ICE vehicle in the country was switched to electric we could almost certainly reduce pollutants and emissions even burning coal to generate the required electricity by shifting the power generation to a few single points where scrubbers etc can clean the exhaust.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Make a car...

    ...that costs as much as the Leaf and runs as far as the Tesla S. Somebody, please? Mr. Ghosn, you listening?

  19. MrCreasy

    All of the patents?

    I have utmost respect for Elon and what he's doing, including SpaceX and his other dealings, it's obvious he's more interested in furthering the technological prowess of the human race, rather than making a lot of money (which he's obviously not short of).

    I do however wonder if his commitment to opening up patents will include the anciliary tech, i.e. falcon wing doors. This is something that could be added to future gas guzzlers, (SUVs and family cars) for example and as a feature that could even make them more attractive, could work against his stated goal of moving away from carbon emitting vehicles.

    I was mightily impressed by those doors, when I saw them in action, I'd love to see them more often, but is this part of the Tesla 'Open source patent' plan?

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