Tesla sort of opens up its patents

June 16th, 2014

Tony Stark, I mean, Elon Musk on the Tesla company blog:

At Tesla, however, 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.

He also writes that “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

Whatever that means. Hopefully, though, anyone that was scared to take on Tesla or build on top of their work is probably breathing a little easier and inspired to innovate in that space. And innovation in that space is sorely needed.

There are a few reasons why a company would pursue a patent but the main reason is to increase the value of a company. At Viddler we pursued a patent to increase the value of our company’s IP. Did it? Not while I was at the company.

You see, if you do win a patent the two main ways to make money on it is to A) license it to other companies to use or, B) protect it so vigorously that you corner the market. The problem with option A is that you need people on staff that know how to find customers for your patent, how to strike deals, and how to properly license the patent. The problem with option B is that it is terribly expensive to protect patents. And, if you are cornering the market it had better be for a something that is making a load of dough.

While I was at Viddler I can only remember one time where we may have been in a position to license our patent to another company. And it was an opportunity that walked in the door on its own, not one that we ushered in. And I don’t know that we had the expertise on staff to recognize that (I certainly had no expertise in this area) and take advantage of it. I do not know if they’ve licensed it since my departure in late-2012.

For many, given the current patent landscape, patents are a monumental waste of time, energy, and resources. And it cannot be argued that patents hinder innovation. For others, they are incredibly lucrative and worth the effort. And, sadly, when patents make a company a massive amount of money they don’t care about innovation anymore. Should your company pursue a patent? As with many things in life; it depends. It depends on the patent, the market, and company, the landscape.

For Tesla they have decided, after a few years mind you, that it no longer matters for them. If it did, they wouldn’t be taking this somewhat open stance. If Tesla was making a massive amount of loot on their patents they wouldn’t be publicly stating that people can explore and utilize their hard work. Also, if someone that wasn’t “in good faith” infringed on their patents you can be certain that they’d “initiate patent lawsuits”. I don’t care what that blog post sort of says.

So, I guess Tesla sort of opened up its patents. They aren’t making enough money on them to make it worth it and so long as someone doesn’t infringe on them in a way that makes them angry — their patents are open to explore.