Elon Musk: Take our Tesla patents, please!


Customers and journalists examine a Tesla Model S sedan at an April 22 event in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Tesla Motors announced Thursday that is making the patents for its technology available to potential competitors, hoping to inspire innovation in the electric car market.

"Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology," Tesla founder and chief operating officer Elon Musk said in a blog post.

Musk also  described a personal shift on the patent issue. "When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them," he wrote. But, Musk said, he quickly realized "receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit."

Tesla, he said, felt compelled to patent their technology at first -- fearing that more established auto manufacturers would overwhelm the company. But that wasn't the case, said Musk. "The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales. "

Musk also cited environmental concerns. "Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis," he said.

"Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day."

Musk has hinted at wanting to do something different with the car company's patents in the past, and rumors swirled earlier this week that the company would share patents related to its charging technology.

But this isn't the first time Musk, who is also the man behind SpaceX, has open-sourced transportation technology plans. Following a month of hype last year, he released plans for a speculative form transportation system dubbed the "hyperloop," saying anyone was free to pursue its development because he was too busy.

Tesla delivered 22,477 vehicles in 2013 and has said it expects to sell more than 35,000 this year. Musk has sought to boost sales with free recharging stations, leases and guarantees of resale value.

A May 7 letter to shareholders revealed the car maker built 7,535 of its Model S vehicle, and delivered 6,457 -- down slightly from the previous quarter. The company, which uses a direct sales model, has also struggled with state laws barring the practice.

Have more to say about this topic? We take your questions every week in our weekly livechat, Switchback, Fridays at 11 a.m. ET. The comment box is open, so submit your questions now.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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