How bold was Tesla’s move to free its patents?


Tesla is happy to share its patents with you. (Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Here are six things that impact the way we live, work and play.

1. Patents can be overrated. Tesla raised some eyebrows with a surprising decision not to initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who in good faith wants to use its technology. But Tesla chief executive Elon Musk might actually be making a shrewd and low-risk move. Via the Harvard Business Review:

The first thing to note is that Tesla is not truly giving away its secret sauce, the source of its competitive advantage. “There’s a lot of thinking in the research these days on the gap between the codified knowledge that is patentable and gets disclosed versus tacit knowledge that really exists in how you actually produce,” says Orly Lobel, a law professor at the University of San Diego specializing in intellectual property. “That gap is probably relevant in this market.”

A Tesla vehicle is quite literally more valuable than the sum of the parts, even when the value of the patented technology is included. “They have this sexy car that people are increasingly liking,” says Lobel. “It’s something different from just the aggregation of the knowledge in the patents.”

That thinking is echoed by Alberto Galasso, another IP expert at the University of Toronto, who put it this way: “A patent on a great technology is worth nothing if there is no threat of imitation.” Access to the patents doesn’t ensure that a competitor can execute on an equally innovative product.

2. Starbucks to introduce wireless charging. From USA Today:

Starting at stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, consumers will be able to set their cellphones down on designated spots on their tabletop, and their batteries will charge as they eat, drink, read or chat. No plugs. No cables. No cost. No joke.

Over the next three years, more than 100,000 table chargers — built-in Powermat charge pads — will be installed in Starbucks’ 7,500 company-owned stores in the U.S. That’s about a dozen per store.


Here’s how air flows over the ball used in the World Cup. (NASA)
Players will compete with a new ball at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Named the Brazuca, adidas spent three years developing it. Here's what you should know about it. (Tom LeGro/The Washington Post)

3. Aerodynamics and the World Cup. NASA tested Adidas’s Brazuca ball in a water channel and used florescent dye under black lights to illustrate how air flows over the ball. Unlike the infamous Jabulani from the 2010 World Cup, the Brazuca will have a predictable flight pattern. The Brazuca has a rougher surface than its predecessor, so it won’t move like a knuckleball at high speeds. The speed range at which it’s likely to move unpredictable is about 30 mph, significantly less than the force with which a professional soccer player strikes a ball.

4. The cup that knows what you’re drinking. From Mashable:

Vessyl is equipped with an array of sensors that can analyze a cup’s contents by volume, nutritional info and beverage type — down to the brand and flavor. Pour a drink into the cup and lift it up, and the cup’s exterior will display the name of the beverage and relevant nutritional info. Pour a glass of juice into Vessyl, for example, and the cup will show you the calorie count and sugar content of the drink. An accompanying mobile app can display your stats as well as contextual information, such as whether you are close to meeting your protein goal or your caffeine intake.

5. Google gets into health. There’s definitely momentum gathering around health data and our digital devices. First Apple announced a health hub that would pull data from different apps. Now Googled is reportedly getting involved. From Forbes:

Google Fit will aggregate data through open APIs, instruction sets that allow apps to share information, and will also announce partnerships with wearable device makers at its I/O conference, Forbes understands. One source with knowledge of Google’s plans said Google Fit would allow a wearable device that measures data like steps or heart rate to interface with Google’s cloud-based services, and become part of the Google Fit ecosystem.

6. A burrito bond. A Mexican fast-food place in London has taken a unique approach to raising money. Via Quartz:

The four-year bond will pay an interest rate of 8 percent, with the proceeds going towards expanding the chain’s footprint from seven restaurants to 10. More than £350,000 has been raised thus far. … But this is no ordinary bond. Every investor also gets a voucher for two free burritos, and the first 100 buyers are invited to an “exclusive bondholder party.” (There will be tequila, the company says.) And if you stump up for £10,000 or more, the company will give you a free burrito every week for the lifetime of the bond.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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