Tesla Motors announced today, by way of a blog post from CEO and founder Elon Musk, that it will no longer enforce any of its patents against anyone who wants to create electric cars.
“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,” wrote Musk. “We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”
Though the post ranges through Musk’s experience with his earlier companies and focuses on Tesla’s competition with major car manufacturers, he also addresses a concern that might sound familiar to many inventors — that open source is not an option, that patents are a necessity, because of the pressure bigger companies can bear on startups. It’s what led Tesla to apply for and receive their 133 patents, on technology from battery packs to efficient motor rotors to thermal management systems.
Of course, what Musk is doing isn’t technically open source, though he references the movement in his first paragraph. And many small companies have had great success using open source. It can allow them to leverage the community and crowdsource improvements in ways that the big boys never do. It’s a difficult choice for many makers trying to transition from prototype to product, one our speakers wrestled with at MakerCon. If you’re wrestling with that yourself, check out the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Hardware Association.