Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
All Our Patent Are Belong To You (teslamotors.com)
1999 points by gkoberger on June 12, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 314 comments

So an informal non-aggression pact is nice, but absolutely no automobile manufacturer would rely on that when a new car costs a significant fraction of a billion dollars to bring to market. (If I were a cynical man, I might think this didn't escape their notice.)

If it were me, and the true intent was to distribute the Tesla patents as widely as possible, I would have said "Tesla pledges to license its entire patent portfolio, on a worldwide non-exclusive no-royalty basis, to any interested party. We will ask for consideration in the amount of $1 for a 99 year license. Your lawyers and accountants can reassure you that these sort of symbolic commitments hold up in court. They'll also no doubt ask to see the full terms, which are about as boring as you'd expect, and which are available from our Legal Department."

It seems to me that this press release was meant to invite interested parties to contact Tesla's legal department, though it didn't say so explicitly. If I ran a car company and saw this, that's what I would do, which I'm sure also didn't escape Tesla's notice. This press release seems more about announcing and explaining Tesla's intentions rather than acting as a binding agreement for a multibillion-dollar megacorp.

Exactly. The car companies are all adults. I think this signals, "Let's go down a road where we don't wind up suing each other like the internet companies" This doesn't diminish the impact of what they're doing, but there's a practical side.

You say this like the people working for and running "the internet companies" aren't adults. Being over an age threshold doesn't have any connection to acting as a benevolent member of society, and all companies, including Tesla and Comcast and Apple and Wawa and Chipotle, are in business to make profits.

Quoting a good but dead comment for visibility:

citrik 10 minutes ago | link [dead]

I don't think the "in business to make profits" part is entirely true. Apple and Tesla are both leading examples of companies that are out for something other than profits first. You can say that shareholder interests and publicly traded companies require ... but at the end of the day those are two companies that don't let capitalist dogma drive their path. I wish there were more than a handful.


I've always thought that Apple is driven by wanting to control its own destiny and not have the short term interests of the market dictate its decisions. That's why it is stockpiling cash and hesitating to pay it out to its shareholders.

Apple and Tesla just want to make great stuff. Not just great, esoteric stuff, but products that are also accessible to the mainstream. The profits are just a way of keeping score and giving them options for the future.

They're kind of like the Beatles, who as an organization always knew how to do things big commercially. But commerce is never what drove The Beatles. They understood that winning in the marketplace gave them more leeway to dream bigger and bigger.

It's easy to say, "why would a company want to exist besides to make profit?" But I think a company can be a creative outlet for its employees and shareholders, just like any other medium. The profits just ensure they have more creative control in the future.

I do not think Apple is an exception to the rule that "ALL public companies are out to make money first and foremost". Remember Jobs was outed because they couldn't see his vision? What happened was they then failed and were later sold on his vision bringing them more money so they put him back in charge. So while individuals have a vision, the corporation only sees green. Everything else is a strategy to achieve it. If you believe that, it follows that internet companies sue each other not because they aren't adults, but because patent law is broken and they are, by their nature, obliged to take advantage of it.

I've always thought that Apple is driven by wanting to control its own destiny and not have the short term interests of the market dictate its decisions. That's why it is stockpiling cash and hesitating to pay it out to its shareholders.

There are a million reasons why I really want to like Apple. But I can't, because they use mostly trivial patents offensively against their competitors. That's not controlling one's own destiny, that's forcibly imposing one's will on others.

It's fascinating how any post even mildly critical of Apple manages to get downvoted.

I'm not a fan of Apple, but down-voted you for the fact that your comment isn't relevant in the chain. Yes, Apple's use of patents sucks and I too hate that, but it's not a contradictory point to the opinion that they "try to control their own destiny", so all you've done is chuck in an anti-Apple issue where it wasn't needed.

Comments like that don't do anything other than push Apple fanboys to champion them even more, followed by Apple haters to criticise them even more.

I believe that the various employees at Apple and Tesla, like lots of employees at lots of companies, are there because they enjoy what they do and want to make and do great things. That includes technical and executive staff.

But the overall business goal is to make money, because unless they're making money they employees will not be able to continue making great things or doing great things.

This seems about as meaningful as saying the employees' overall goal is to eat food, because without food their bodies will not be able to continue doing great things.

Perhaps the point being made was that the individual motives/goals of the employees are irrelevant to assessing the overall motives of the company as a whole. Personally I'd say it's whatever the CEO's goals are, but shared agency is a weird thing.

What are Apple and Tesla trying for, if not profits? Both are certainly great at leveraging marketing and PR announcements like this to appear as some kind of shining pillar of goodness, but at the end of the day they're both businesses.

Related: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yowHM6nqu60

Saying that all corporations are equally trying for profits above all else is kind of like saying that the only purpose of living is reproducing. It grossly oversimplifies the situation, despite the fact that some corporations do seem to focus only on profit, and some humans to focus only on reproduction.

If I had said that, then yes, it would have been quite foolish. But I did not say that all corporations are striving with equal fervor, nor that they focus solely on profit.

All companies strive for profits, but some take a more short term view than others.

Not implying that the internet company CEOs aren't. It's just that they're in a game where they have to go heavy on IP and patents.

I'm saying that management of Tesla isn't acting like a naive college kid giving away the store. There is a strategy. And the other auto companies will see it for what it is.

If I were Tesla, I'd also request that the licensing party grant a reciprocal bulk license to Tesla as well. Or, barring that, that Tesla reserves the right to revoke the license if you initiate a patent lawsuit against it.

Does there exist such a patent license with no security holes? I would imagine that it would read, “License will be revoked if you 1) Sue me for patent infringement. 2) Sell a patent to a company that sues me for patent infringement (like Intellectual Ventures does). 3) Sponsor the development of a patent, and the owner of the patent sues me for patent infringement. 4) Contract with a patent pool that sues me for patent infringement. 5) Sue my partners or customers for patent infringement (like Apple vs. Google’s partners)...” and so on ad infinitum.


(i'm not asserting it is perfect, just that it is an effort towards what you describe)

It's an interesting attempt. The problem I'm seeing is that it seems to do nothing about non-practicing entities, or to prevent the sort of thing Microsoft et al have done with Rockstar, essentially paying to license a bunch of questionable patents with the foreseeable effect of giving the non-practicing entity enough cash to create a menace for their competitors.

What could be an interesting solution is to prevent people who want the protection of the mutual license from licensing patents from anyone else under any other terms. So if you want the protection of the license and a patent troll approaches you, your only choice is to either vanquish the troll or buy the patent outright and immunize everyone.

That should mean no more Rockstars at least, and should make life more difficult for trolls because they couldn't license patents anymore, only sell them outright.

> it seems to do nothing about non-practicing entities

It doesn't do anything about non-practicing entities because it can't. There's no formulation of words that could cause a license to have any bearing on NPEs.

Your potential wording would make the patent license completely unusable. Perhaps an alternative might be something along the lines of: You may not license a patent that has been involved in legal dispute. If a licensed patent is subsequently involved in legal dispute, either this license or that license must be terminated within NN months.

> It doesn't do anything about non-practicing entities because it can't. There's no formulation of words that could cause a license to have any bearing on NPEs.

That isn't true at all. You can do something about NPEs by changing the behavior of their targets. You take away the ability to license a patent without securing a license for everyone and now the troll can no longer rely on extracting nuisance value settlements from large numbers of targets, because for the target the cost of losing the reciprocal license (and having to fight all of those patent holders) now exceeds the cost of invalidating the troll's patent. And if everyone sees the same calculus and everyone fights, trolling as a business model could become unprofitable.

> Your potential wording would make the patent license completely unusable.

Why is that? The ideal endgame would be to bring about a de facto nullification of software patents. The more patents that become licensed under the defensive license, the more incentive there is to put all of your own patents under it, which creates all the more incentive for others to do the same. Obviously you wouldn't have e.g. IBM signing on the first day, but as it snowballs the incentive to do so increases over time. At the end of the chain you would have a situation where there would be ten times as many patents that IBM is infringing than they own and the only way they could get a license to those patents is to join the agreement with everyone else.

I would think another interesting feature would be to allow anyone who has signed on to the agreement to use any of the signatories' patents offensively against anyone who hasn't, in exchange for a large chunk of the proceeds, essentially on a contingent fee basis. I believe a third of the amount recovered is typical? That would allow patent trolling to eat itself, because patents lawyers could sign on to the agreement at no cost (since they don't characteristically own patents) and then have instant access to a huge corpus of patents to go sue everyone else with, until such time as everyone relevant has signed on. And it would also create an incentive to sign on in the early days, because if you sign on and have any good patents there is a reasonable chance that some lawyers will go out and sue Microsoft et al at their own expense and then give you half the money. Until there are a lot of signatories that should be about as profitable for existing patent holders as hiring a lawyer to go sue people on your behalf without the defensive conditions, unless everybody starts signing on right away, which would be even better.

It doesn't do anything about non-practicing entities because it can't.

I think AnthonyMouse's comment was referring to NPEs that were sponsored by a practicing entity that is subject to a reciprocal license. An effective such license would have to restrict participants from indirectly funding attacks that would be violations of their agreement if they carried out the attacks themselves.

> Microsoft et al have done with Rockstar

It is my understanding that Rockstar existed prior to Microsoft and others getting involved. They merely footed the bill.

Pretty sure that's what I said. Is that supposed to absolve them?

Well, yes. Before they bought it up, Rockstar was a menace to everybody. Even before Rockstar, Nortel was calling firms up for licenses, and everyone knew what was coming when the patents went on the auction block. By making the winning bid, MS, Apple et al successfully managed to reduce their own liability.

Now, in a fair competition, that should give them an advantage over others who failed to manage their risks. But the way everyone here behaves, people expect them to just let things lie, effectively footing the bill for the rest of the industry. How's that fair?

> effectively footing the bill for the rest of the industry

Well, they (at least many of them -- e.g. Microsoft, Apple, etc) also 'play the game' with their own patents, so it's not out of character for them to use patents offensively. By using their patents offensively, they are contributing to the situation where they are required to 'foot the bill' with their own liabilities, at least. If they adopted a less aggressive stance, and instead put the money they've spent on lawyers towards lobbying for patent reform, what they 'need' to do to limit their liability might be really different.

Not really, but throwing in for something that already exists is slightly different than creating it in the first place.

What was Rockstar's business before the patent purchase? Or was Rockstar a shelf company?

A NPE doesn't need your patent because they're non-practicing.

One would also have clauses to ensure that the products/devices produced under license would not be designed for lock-in and be compatible with electric cars from other companies.

Interesting; almost like a "SA" license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/ but for product compatibility.

I doubt that Elon Musk would do something like this without heavy consultation with Tesla Motors' legal team.

I don't have any inside information, but I have to believe that this is where they are going with the play. They aren't naive enough to give away the store without anything in return. It's more like, "Let's all share and compete against the carbon-based auto makers" rather than "Here's something you can use against me"

> I'd also request that the licensing party grant a reciprocal bulk license to Tesla as well.

That what I thought "in good faith" meant.

I saw the press release as more directed towards average automobile buyers. As a "We will not be the ones preventing your favorite Automobile manufacturer from producing an Electric Car in the style you want, and neither will the research cost of the technologies we use".

I believe the message was phrased in a way to be directed at consumers so that hopefully the consumers will send a message one way or another to the other manufacturers causing them to come to more official agreements with Tesla. (which will of course have terms).

It's basically a statement of intent, and there's no reason to believe they don't mean what they say. Hopefully this leads to progressed innovation.

Isn't there a precedent? Volvo opening up the three-point seatbelt patents. Does anyone know the particulars of how that worked? My google-fu is weak, all I can find are articles that sound like PR.

Wikipedia has the details + references: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seat_belt#Three-point

Not really - neither that page nor its referenced sources talk to the point of how they shared it with other companies, just states that it happened.

Nothing stops any company from now going to Tesla, aware that Tesla is open to a highly favorable licensing agreement, and propose just such a move.

I love Elon Musk, and kudos to them for doing this, but it's useful to read between the lines:

> Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters.

This is consistent with my view of how engineers in the traditional disciplines view patents.

> 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

This is the precise thing that patents are designed to prevent: to keep the market from turning into a race to see who can outsource most efficiently to China and inundate the public most completely with advertising.

> 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.

So the other manufacturers didn't copy Tesla's technology, either because they are incapable of it or because they didn't feel there was enough money in it relative to their traditional markets.

> We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.

In other words, it helps Tesla more to have lots of companies developing electric cars to push back on regulatory barriers and consumer perceptions than it does for them to protect themselves against larger manufacturers copying their technology. Also buried in here is the assumption that Tesla is, now, far enough ahead of its potential competitors that it doesn't matter if they copy the technology.

I think this is the right move for Tesla, but there's a lot of dynamics at play that have nothing to do with the usefulness of patents in general.

>This is the precise thing that patents are designed to prevent: to keep the market from turning into a race to see who can outsource most efficiently to China and inundate the public most completely with advertising.

I have absolutely no idea how you possibly came to this conclusion.

When you make it easy to copy innovative designs, companies can really only compete on lower manufacturing costs and more advertising.[1] That's why engineering firms pushed for stronger IP protections through the WTO in the 1990's: Chinese and Korean companies were copying the designs of Cisco, etc, and undercutting them on prices because they didn't have any R&D expenses.

[1] At least when you're talking about physical products that are sold in one-off transactions for money. If you can leverage network effects or lock-in effects, or hide your innovations behind arms-length protocols, like many internet-based companies do, you're not as vulnerable to copycats.

That's all true, but it still doesn't follow that patents themselves prevent competition on cost. For example, if a non-practicing patent holder licensed their patent to all interested parties, then the licensees must also compete on cost. So far as I can tell, patents were explicitly designed to allow that scenario, among others.

The licenser is afforded the freedom to sell licenses at whatever price they choose, because they have a monopoly on the IP which is being licensed.

There are more ways than that to compete when selling products that are tantamount to commodity.

With Cisco they have a head start on quality or at least the perception of quality, their products are tried and tested. There is also brand value, Cisco is the real deal, it looks dead posh in the rack for 'nobody got sacked for buying IBM' reasons. They also have supply chain advantages, e.g. a dealer network and short lead times for those dealers to get out of stock items. There is also the matter of warranty/returns.

Sure, another company can put together the customer service aspect, however, manufacturing is a very small part of the retail price of a product and it is normally the wider customer service aspects plus brand identity (which includes advertising/marketing) that makes a product succeed in the marketplace.

The cisco story was about huawei pirating their software. That's copyright infringement, not patent abuse.

Copyright protection is all you need in the software space to differentiate from your competitors, because in software development the execution is a lot more important than the idea. Well executed versions of old ideas can blow away the competition. See e.g. the iphone, which did less than earlier smartphones, but did it much better. Note also that it wasn't the patents that prevented competitors from catching up, because they ended up ignoring them anyway and still took half a decade to make a competing product despite having access to the same hardware from the beginning.

This is the precise thing that patents are designed to prevent: to keep the market from turning into a race to see who can outsource most efficiently to China and inundate the public most completely with advertising.

Patents were largely designed to enable the state to have a selectively published library of what was being invented in the country and to reduce the power of trade guilds, who had huge power at the time. Offering a limited monopoly backed by force of law was one of the few incentives that worked for acquiring access to the kind of trade secrets you needed to keep your edge on the battlefield.

Seems weird that you would have them publicly published for your enemies to read if that were the sole motivation.

You don't. Patents are selectively published according to national security criteria.

Nice distinction between 'reason' and 'rationale'.

Always be wary of a precise thing as explanation for stuff existing in the real world, doubly so if the stuff predates the thing.

> In other words, it helps Tesla more to have lots of companies developing electric cars to push back on regulatory barriers and consumer perceptions than it does for them to protect themselves against larger manufacturers copying their technology.

Also, so somebody else will help pay for all of the Superchargers they want to build.


The free-rider effect is not a "post-facto rationalization." It's rooted in a strong economic basis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_rider_problem.

I think it partly an ethical thing. Patents doesn't (most of the time) benefit society, they only create monopolies (which are about as helpful as those in many socialist countries, i.e. not very much).

I think Musk cares more about advancing electric cars than suing and squeeze profits out of patent monopolies.

Don't know what you have against socialist countries(ie: most of the G7) but you definitely have monopolies in the U.S.

The U.S. is a welfare state like most of the G7. The only variance is how the U.S. welfare state is implemented. We're absolutely not a Capitalist country; maybe 30 or 40 years ago we were still a mixed economy. It's about as far away from Capitalism as you can get before crossing over into Venezuelan style Socialism. The US Government has enough power, through numerous means, to directly control every aspect of the economy as it sees fit or if it cares to. The US flavor of Socialism, is going to be Fascism (or totalitarianism, or inverted totalitarianism; whatever the case, the vague generalities are understood).

We definitely have government protected monopolies though, no doubt about that. Tons of them in fact. From defense contractors, to telecom, to banking, to healthcare, and so on. Most major industries are filled with some variation of massive corporations protected from competition by the government.

There's an argument that strongly protectionist policies are in fact very useful for developing an economy. Protect your own markets, but appropriate other's IP.

See Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang.


There is no legal covenant here. I imagine Tesla’s definition of “good faith” is “we evaluate on a case by case basis”.

Which amounts to “if we like you” and “we reserve the right”. If they wanted these patents to be open source, they would license them explicitly.

They have definitely left a lot of wiggle room and you'd be crazy to build stuff based on their patents without a licensing agreement, but I think this signals that they are very open to licensing their technology, and are not trying to "build a moat". This would be a lot more interesting if they were willing to state the terms on which they are willing to license the patents, but there are probably complex legal issues with saying so explicitly.

Easier would be if they created an online form or possibly a meatspace dropbox (to realistically prevent DDOSes) which auto-issues you a license to use their patents at zero monetary cost or cost of postage.

I can't see the need for automation here. It's not like millions will wake up tomorrow to build electric cars in their garages and start a company to sell those.

yeah, not so many ppl are gonna use their patents.

Imo there will be :

* Other car manufacturers (such as BMW, that already contacted Tesla on this matter : http://www.theverge.com/2014/6/12/5804890/bmw-confirms-that-...

* Oil stations (Esso, BP ,etc.). Electricity based car ARE the future. This is their chance to become a part of it.

I am pretty sure I can think of simpler ways to issue a fee-free license to a patent.

I'm curious about this. To what degree is a CEO writing and publicly distributing the statement, "Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology." legally binding? "In good faith" actually strikes me as reasonably interpretable by a court, so I guess the question is just how much "he said so in a blog post" counts. I'd love to hear a lawyer weigh in on this.

"Good faith" is somewhat subjective, and usually it depends on context. Generally speaking, it means acting in an as-stated, forthright, non-deceptive manner.

For example, if I agree to explore a partnership with you "in good faith," it means I am serious about the possibility of a partnership. I am not merely wasting your time for the purposes of distracting you, defrauding you, conducting market espionage, or sending false signals. Basically, I am acting "in good faith" when I honestly believe I am doing what I claim to be doing, for the reasons I claim to be doing it. You assume I am acting in good faith, and vice versa, unless a pattern of actions or evidence gives sufficient cause to doubt it.

IANAL, but I've dealt with "good faith" issues in business development and licensing contracts more times than I wish I'd had to. There is usually an implicit assumption that all contracts are entered into in good faith unless proven otherwise -- which means I'd almost definitely want to enter into an agreement with Tesla if I were to use their technology.

Bad faith would be GM patenting an obvious extension to a Tesla patent. What I think Musk is trying to do is poison the electric car patent pool with Milk and Honey. It isn't just Tesla patents that matter, but the whole landscape. Patents stifle the spread and pace of good idea distribution.

That's my understanding of the term too, but it doesn't seem that subjective. IANAL, but in the absence of an explicit overriding definition, I suspect the court would interpret just like you said it; i.e. it's not up to Tesla.

> There is usually an implicit assumption that all contracts are entered into in good faith unless proven otherwise -- which means I'd almost definitely want to enter into an agreement with Tesla if I were to use their technology.

Doesn't that say the opposite? Assuming the sentence legally binds Tesla in the first place, wouldn't they have to prove you're acting in bad faith in order to sue you? I mean, maybe you want an agreement anyway, but to the extent that the term defaults to true, it means you need less contractual protection.

Lawyer here. Just very quickly, (i) a CEO's blog post itself is not legally binding on the company by nature, but it is a reflection of a corporate decision (typically the Board of Directors)behind the post. An action of this nature can only be challenged in court by the shareholders or dissenting board members in certain cases. (ii) a legal patent holder has every right of disposal over the patent, including the act of revoking it. (iii)I did not look for precedents for this but if a different company would re-issue Tesla's designs on their own name and tried to sue Tesla (i.e. trolling), I have serious doubts concerning not only on whether such revoked patents can be re-issued in somebody elses name but also, assuming thats possible, any judge or court would award any penalties to the original patent author in such lawsuit.


Nothing is legally binding without a meeting of the minds: offer, acceptance, and consideration. Tesla is offering not to sue you, yes. What are you giving Tesla in return? Who signed a contract memorializing this agreement? What money is changing hands?

This promise is just as legally binding as the promises of political candidates when they are campaigning (i.e. not at all), and is worth exactly how much you paid for it (i.e. nothing).

That said, of all the companies out there who can make a promise, Tesla is near the top of my list of the most trustworthy.

Would I believe this promise if Apple, Google or Microsoft made it? Hell no. But for some ineffable reason, I believe Elon Musk when he promises something, and I believe Tesla wouldn't promise something without Musk's approval.

I still would get a license agreement to back up this promise if I were going to use any of their technology, though. You'd be stupid not to. Tesla shareholders could ultimately kick Elon Musk to the curb just as Apple did to Jobs. Musk could pull a reverse-Gates and become an asshole in his old age instead of a philanthropist. Nothing is certain in the world of business.

Trust, but verify.

Not true:


Not that it applies here just yet, due to the vagueness of the good faith part.

It's not, but it wasn't the point of the blog post to be a legally binding document, the point was to put the industry on notice that Tesla's patents are open and that they want to collaborate.

"Promissory estopple". Look it up.

They would be on the receiving end of a PR shitstorm if they tried to enforce their patents after publishing this.

True, but if you were Gigantic Auto Manufacturer, would you build these patents into a billion-dollar factory without a stronger guarantee that Tesla won't about-face in 5-10 years? I wouldn't risk it.

No. But if you were Gigantic Auto Manufacturer, you'd probably have your lawyers talk to Tesla's lawyers and get something in writing first.

This is merely stating that Tesla is open to such things, not a legal guarantee.

No. But you'd never have any sort of dependency in a business of that size that wasn't properly licensed/firm. This might help your development teams though prototype stuff more easily without fear knowing that if it got the greenlight then the lawyers/bd people would call Tesla and start negotiating.

It's an interesting move...you help produce (potentially) lots of little companies to attack the market share of the entrenched players, but those same players cannot/will not be able to use the same advantages. Good show.

If they can get uptake of some of their key patents then this equates to "standards". It possibly could help spread the recharging kiosks if there are more cars on the road that use the same tech. I love the fact that Musk thinks he can just outcompete other companies. Very very cool.

> They would be on the receiving end of a PR shitstorm if they tried to enforce their patents after publishing this.

I can see a situation where a competitor / patent troll sues them, and they use the patents defensively. If they're obviously on the right side, their PR department won't have such a hard time.

Tesla has shown time and time again they don't mind PR shitstorms.

That's because they usually are on the right side of them.

Promissory estoppel can apply without a covenant, but the good faith thing is pretty vague in the absence of a contract. Most likely they are going to put out licensing terms that protect Tesla against certain patent suits-- perhaps protecting them from new patents building-on-top-of/citing Tesla's own patents.

I don't see why they wouldn't be willing to talk to the legal department of, say, GM and clarify the exact terms for a license. The blog post is a general statement of intent and the lawyers can discuss specific details as they apply to particular situations.

Intellectual Ventures is known to weaponize their patents by “selling” them to a company that does nothing but sue other people and can’t be sued for infringement. Is there any license that Tesla can write to open their patents but protect themselves in the case that another car maker uses Tesla’s patents but sells their own patents to a company that sues Tesla?

IV could be what Tesla and SpaceX is, but Myhrvold is an empire building twit. The people he hires leave to do better things because the things they do are not good. So much wasted human capital.

I wasn’t comparing Tesla to IV, I was comparing another auto manufacturer to IV. The point is, no one wants to be the chump offering their own patents on FRAND terms while the competition is not playing fair. And the ways that a competitor might play unfairly are probably impossible to enumerate in a single blanket license, thus necessitating the vague language of the blog post.

I understand. Most other auto manufacturers will start acting pretty oddly as their businesses collapse. I would almost expect them to form a patent pool to keep another electric car company, think Saturn, sprouting up and furthering their demise.

Does the US Govt still hold car company debt? Things could get really weird...

afaict http://www.defensivepatentlicense.com/ attempts to cover this case

This seems to be the right amount of wriggle room.

A high profile company like Tesla is not going to want to be seen suing two high schools students using an electric motor to power their Tanzanian school. But they want to reserve the right to stop the White Supremecist Indy 500 team using the same engine.

Seems like the best of a bunch of good and bad choices

But aren't Tanzanian students on the wrong side of the law already?


Just conjecture here, but my guess is that "Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology" means that Tesla is going to require these others who want to use the technology to obtain a license from Tesla. That license may not include a royalty payment, but you can probably bet it will require a reciprocal license (back to Tesla) of any patents of the licensee. This will ensure that Tesla cannot be sued by any of its licensees on any of their patents, and that if they try to sue Tesla, they are no longer acting in "good faith" and have breached the agreement.

Anything short of a legal document setting out which rights are waived and which are reserved, and under what circumstances, is just PR. No company is going to use a Tesla-patented technology without that guarantee.

No company is going to use a Tesla-patented technology without that guarantee.

Lots of people are saying this, but I don't understand it. My understanding (IANAL) is that when the CEO publishes something like this on the company's official web site, it becomes completely impossible for the company to win any future patent suits due to promissory estoppel.

Musk has effectively stuffed all of the company's patents into his office shredder. Good for him.

(Edit: He has also intentionally lowered the market value of the company by a certain amount, which is interesting.)

Well, step 1 is PR telling the world they can do what they thought they couldn't - use Tesla's patents for free. I'm sure lawyers are busily writing suitable legal agreements as we type, just to clarify obvious concerns. Without that PR, few would be asking permission.

Why wouldn't they get all their ducks in a row before the announcement, though?

Maybe they did and will send you long legal document if you mail them. This is just an announcement inviting you to contact them.

Why would you start announcing it to your competitors before announcing it properly?

But if they do enforce the patents, wouldn't that destroy the good will that the company enjoys with the public?

Alex Tabarrok comments on this: "I believe that this announcement will be discussed in business schools for years to come much like Henry Ford’s announcement of the $5 a day wage."


Just like everyone remembers when the US bought up and public-domained all the aeronautic patents.

EDIT I should explicitly say that I am being sarcastic. Mr Tabarrok is believing what he wants to be true.

Most people are actually unaware of Ford's "innovations" on pay, or the reasoning behind them, but that does not dilute the profound impact the actions had.

It's 4th grade US history curriculum.

most people don't live in the US

Approximately 100% of people under the jurisdiction of US patent law and influenced by the American auto industry do.


What's learned in the 4th grade curriculum about "$5 a day" is about as accurate as what I learned in 4th grade about "Columbus proved the Earth was round."

Assuming that this search represents nearly all of them, that is approximately 133 patents:


Edit: Nice catch, peter_l_downs ... I didn't realize that the estimated search result of 6,430 would be off by such a large factor.

Interestingly, try navigating through – here's the link to page 14: https://www.google.com/?tbm=pts&gws_rd=ssl#q=inassignee%3A%2.... I remember reading or being told that Google only estimates how many results there are, and refines the estimate as you navigate further down the list. As of page 14 there seem to be only 133 results; a far cry from 6,430.

Apparently they don't estimate, they inflate how many results there are... For example, I never seen a case when their "estimate" was lower then the actual number of results.

An upper bound is a valid estimation. "Inflating" assumes that they have a good approximation, and that they arbitrarily increase it. I don't think that they do that.

The choice to take an upper bound (which will systematically err on the high side) and call it an "estimate" (which is not expected to have large, systematic error) inflates the numbers.

> An upper bound is a valid estimation.

Most people don't expect upper bounds, though, when talking about estimations. I for one would appreciate a less-than or less-than-or-equal sign when this is truly an upper bound, as it gives me a better idea of what to expect of the actual number of results in relation to the estimation.

> Most people don't expect upper bounds, though, when talking about estimations.

What do you mean? If all I know about a number X is that it is an estimate for Y, I would expect X to be an upper bound for Y 50% of the time and a lower bound 50% of the time.

...if you don't know which way, it's not a boundary at all.

This is not like IBM making some of its less important patents available to the community. This is huge.

How many times in the past has a private company opened up its core patents for everyone to use? There aren't that many precedences.

Not many people have been in the same boat as Tesla, a young company in a trillion dollar industry with limited players.

What Tesla is saying, here are my patents, let's start building electrical fuel stations arround the world, i can do a lot of them by myselve (and i'm doing that), but i don't have enough budget to do it arround the world.

It seems clear to me, that Tesla's biggest obstacle for electrical cars is electrical fuel stations and not other car dealers, because Tesla dominates the electrical car "scene" right now (personal opinion)... But i don't consider one , because there aren't any electrical fuel station arround here (Belgium) - although they are working on that as fast as they can, checkout http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger and scroll between "open right now" and "winter 2014-2015".

I think it's a good business move from Tesla.. I'm just curious what happens when a car manufacturer takes the patents, adds one of their own patents and then unites with a other car manufacturers.... Leaving Tesla in the dark, is that possible or are there some limits to "opening" their patents?

You know, that's a good point. Apparently you could build charging stations, using their plug tech, without paying royalties.

That's huge. And smart.

Yeah, but we all know selling cars are mostly marketing :D. Tesla will have a field day if the other manufacturers do that. It's a risk, but it's a calculated risk with a huge amount of rewards for reasonable risk, which is exactly how smaller companies compete with the incumbents. No CEO from a big auto company could make this move, but Musk could, and did.

Let's say a manufacturer goes all in on the deal with Tesla and he brings out a superior car to Tesla (let's say Audi for example)...

Then people who want to choose an electric car, will think about Audi and Tesla.

It's not Tesla that is trying to get in the game, he's already in it... But are they willing to roll your dice against Tesla by competing him on popularity of products and joining him on aggressively providing fuel stations (hell, you can name it Audi Fuel Zone, if you want).

You could break out a huge market in no time, it wouldn't be bad to team up with Tesla to break open the market.. Although i wouldn't like to be Mercedes (for example), produce a electric car and say to my clients: hey, you can tank at a Audi Fuel Zone or we don't have an electric fuel stations compatible with our technology :)

None the less, electric cars are coming.

More of a "fuel free zone" than a "fuel zone."

In a sense, electricity is the fuel of the car... But then again, i could be mistaking.

Got me on that one :)

Not intended to be a gotcha. That would be a silly one. (Downvotes on gp post: Now we see the humorless side of HN)

In 1956 AT&T opened all of it's patents to everyone without royalties to settle an antitrust suit, including the transistor.


Core element there being "to settle an anti-trust suit".

It's helpful to keep in mind that AT&T operated under anti-trust watch from 1917 through 1984, with the 1950s action being among the most significant.

It was also responsible for keeping AT&T out of the computing market, which meant that when AT&T created an operating system, it had something it couldn't sell, so it gave it away.

You may have heard of this, it was called "UNIX".

Didn't know that! That turned out well. To the innovators go the spoils.

The opposite, actually. This is about giving the spoils to everyone who didn't invent the transistor.

the spoils to everyone who innovated on the transistor.

That's what I meant. THose that generated the most value on the transistor, got the spoils - eg Fairchild, Intel, etc

Not necessarily, unless they also got patents on their innovations.

You're aware that it's possible to make money on an invention without patenting it. First to market advantage, a foothold in the market, continuing brand recognition as the go-to source for that product, a head start on the next round of innovation, increased sales across the industry as the product becomes more valuable to customers, increased sales of complementary products and services, etc.

Or just keeping it a trade secret, like WD-40.

That was a calculation, assuming that they would loose more in the suit than in opening up it's patents, this isn't the same at all, though it is a direct response to the question.

Volvo did this with the seat belt.

Volvo did that for modern seatbelts in the interest of public safety (and IIRC for every other security-related invention they had patented)

133 seems about right. 136 by my count of the Tesla patent wall via Steve Jurvetson.


In the biotech space there exists a system called "patentleft" which theoretically provides royalty-free licensing of patents with the stipulation that any derivative works / improvements also be licensed under the same terms.

Seems like there is good potential to build on the momentum of Tesla's announcement to formalize the process, and answer the questions that I'm sure will emerge in this thread - eg more akin to an Creative Commons (which is very well defined and practical).


How common is this - are there any well known examples? (If so, they're not in wikipedia!)

Patentleft is analogous to 'Copyleft' which is a play on words to Copyright.

Sounds to me like the "in good faith" clause is to retain the patents for a defense should someone try to come after Telsa for infringing.

Quite an interesting business move and pretty unprecedented as far as I know, at least for a non-software company. Presumably he is hoping that this will encourage improvement to infrastructure. He is also probably thinking he can build higher quality cars and cheaper than others, irrespective of if they are electric or not (probably this is true).

That is certainly the most plausible reading of that phrase, but it still seems like it could be put into a licence pretty easily, along the lines of "User of these patents hereby relinquishes all claims of infringement against Tesla Motors for any patents the user may own or license".

i read "in good faith" as "you may use these as you wish but don't turn around and try to sue us for using something you hold a patent for"

i could be totally off the mark though

I read it more along the lines of "you may use these as you wish but don't try to turn around and screw the electrification of transportation, harming humanity's future for your own short-term gain". Musk isn't doing it for money after all.

> Musk isn't doing it for money after all.

No, it's for money.

It's the charging stations. There aren't enough of them, and it's the biggest problem they have.

Tesla needs the big manufacturers to build electric cars so they will put charging stations everywhere.

You're right that the problem is they can't scale charging stations up fast enough. But my point was that Musk is running Tesla not to earn money, but to fix a particular global problem. His terminal goal is electrification of transport, as opposed to typical terminal goals of many CEOs, i.e. "to have a lot of money". Money is only instrumental for Tesla.

Tesla is a public company, Musk is reported to have a 32% stake [1], so is responsible to the other shareholders. If the decision didn't make business sense, he would expect to be replaced as Chairman and CEO.

There may be altruism and mission involved, but Tesla isn't (and shouldn't be) a charity.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk#Tesla_Motors

> There may be altruism and mission involved, but Tesla isn't (and shouldn't be) a charity.

Altruism and being a company are not mutually exclusive. In case of Tesla, being a company is probably the most effective way to achieve its goal. It's the difference between instrumental and terminal values I'm trying to point out; i.e. Tesla is earning money to electrify transport, not building cars to earn money.

> Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

I'm not familiar with US legislation, but from my perspective this is just Musk on his soap-box making a statement. It's not something I can rely on while building a business that possibly (!) infringes one of Tesla's patents. They may retract their statement and reconsider at any time, especially when times get tough.

It's nice to hear this, sure, but I fail to see the meat in this announcement.

They have to keep the patents (or donate them to a trusted third part, as a bunch of tech companies have done). They unfortunately need the protection. Otherwise, someone could sue them.

I think Musk's word in this case is good. He's not a nobody; his reputation is stellar.

A general business tip: rely on someone's reputation as a signal that you should consider doing business with them, and then rely on their signature on a contract to protect you when you do business with them.

They should license the patents for free to anyone who wants to use them. There's no word needed.

Looks who's talking, the largest patent holder and bureaucratic entity on Earth. Yeah, right ;)

I believe that was the joke. :)

http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Patent_non-aggression_pacts is an option that is a tad more legally binding.

Hopefully they'll issue a more formal statement, but even if they don't, this is grounds for estoppel.

Beyond that, anyone who wants something signed and in writing could likely drop a note to Tesla for it when doing their due diligence.

For those unfamiliar with estoppel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estoppel#Reliance-based_estoppe...

That would clearly apply in this case.

I agree, but not necessarily because Musk might randomly change his mind. The problem is if Tesla runs out of money they must sell these patents to another company whose CEO might not have the same outlook.

Longer term, the other problem is when Musk retires/dies. Of course, that probably wont affect any current patents, but it could to future ones.

> I'm not familiar with US legislation, but from my perspective this is just Musk on his soap-box making a statement. It's not something I can rely on while building a business that possibly (!) infringes one of Tesla's patents. They may retract their statement and reconsider at any time, especially when times get tough.

The question is whether its a specific enough statement as to reasonably induce reliance, and whether promissory estoppel would apply. It seems to me (and I'm not an expert) like it may be close enough as to seriously threaten Tesla's ability to successfully prosecute suits, and vague enough that anyone else would still be leery about using anything Tesla has patented.

Are YOU going to built a business around Tesla's patents? If so, you just got a very credible hint that Tesla might be interested in talking to you. Isn't that great?

Sometimes I feel doing business in the US is liking playing with your toys while your mom (courts) are watching. No wonder the legal industry is so huge. It has ingrained in people's mind that other people's word are worth nothing. I wish we could look past that... go talk to the guy (or his whatever-department that handles licensing matters). If you're really interested in starting this business, it won't take much of your time.

>It has ingrained in people's mind that other people's word are worth nothing.

Except that the legal enforcement of property rights is something that separates the First World with the rest of the planet, and is an engine for economic growth.

Except that such big dependency on legal enforcement and settling everything in court is clearly an American think - we don't see anything near it in Europe.

Since this statement comes from a Chairman and a CEO, wouldn't a breach of this promise be considered as a form of bait and switch? I mean, he publicly advertises a certain promise in a function of a key operative from the company.

Agreed. But his lawyers would have wiggle room with the "in good faith" part added onto the promise if they needed to go after someone.

If Musk is smart (and serious about his belief in OSS), he'll keep the patents as a defensive tool and provide $0 perpetual licenses to the patents to anyone who asks.

I interpret this as a signal that Tesla will be willing to enter into no-cost license agreements for companies wishing to use their technology, and won't pursue cases against companies who make technology that is related, and where infringement might be plausible, and could go either way when put to trial.

Would this not be a get out of court free card in any lawsuit Tesla would try to start?

I suspect that an ambiguously-worded blog post would not be legally binding.

You don't think a Judge would have serious issues with the founder and CEO suing someone after saying "hey feel free to use our patents to create legitimate products?"

Volvo famously acted similarly with their invention of the seatbelt.

It was actually their invention of the three-point seatbelt in 1959.


"Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology."

What exactly does that little "in good faith" clause mean in there?

If Tesla doesn't initiate patent lawsuits, then the usage was in good faith.

People are optimistic but I'm with you.

For example, using the Supercharger network requires that the automotive company offer energy for free for life to customers, and charge up front at the point of sale for all energy requirements for the life of the vehicle.

That's Musk's business model and is enforcing it for anyone who wants to use his "open infrastructure".

Which is bollocks to me: only wealthy people buying extremely expensive vehicles are going to want to prepay for a decade or two's worth of electricity. It means BMW and Audi will Supercharge, but Toyota and Ford? You can't ask budget customers to prepay a decade's worth of travel costs. You can't competitively and aggressively price a vehicle like that.

I imagine "good faith" means "follow OUR rules for the industry", which makes me sad. I'd like to see things be a bit more open than that, and I have very little doubt that this "standard" will be duplicated by companies unwilling to play by wealthy rules.

> but Toyota and Ford? You can't ask budget customers to prepay a decade's worth of travel costs.

A 2014 Ford Focus gets ~40mpg. Assuming 12,000 miles/year, that's ~300 gallons of fuel. Assume, conservatively, $3/gallon. That's ~$900/year for fuel, or $2700 over 3 years. The cost to get supercharger access from Tesla is $2000 at time of purchase ($2500 after delivery).

To finance $2000 at even a ridiculously high 10% over 3 years is $64.53/month, fully loaded principal and interest. This is already less than most people pay per month for gasoline/petrol.

And that's THREE YEARS. After that, to fuel at Superchargers is essentially free (already amortized).

"Budget car customers" include a lot of relatively poor people who cannot afford to make that fixed-amount decently-large payment every single month. And certainly not upfront at time of sale. Have you never seen someone who can "only put twenty buck of gas" ?

Yea, but someone in that position probably shouldn't be buying any new car.

It will most likely be wrapped into the purchase price of the car and financed.

Only on HN I would find a comment which translates the act of freeing engineering patents into forcing business models upon other companies...

Only on HN will I find people who think saying "we won't sue you if you follow our rules" equates to "freeing engineering patents".

There's nothing "free" about Musk being the decider on whether or not you get sued.

Well it will be simple - you can either buy a vehicle with a "supercharger" pack which is $X more,or you you can buy one without but then you can't use the superchargers. Then we will see what the market chooses - it might not be as clear as you think.

"In good faith" means that when you write to Tesla asking to license their patented technology at no cost as promised by their CEO, their lawyers write back saying "OK, if as a sign of good faith you also agree to license your patents to Tesla at no cost".

Sounds like "go ahead, but if you start trying to sue us then we'll sue you"

Agreed. I was hoping for a link to a BSD- or Creative Commons-style license, but this was only a reason for not [suing anyone] using the patents (as welcome as that is).

[edited for clarification]

Until clarified, it kind of reads like "independently came up with the same idea, but did not research patents or reach out to us for licensing first."

I think it reads more generally, as in "for any purpose whatsoever except patent litigation".

I feel like (again, until clarified) it's more broad than that. "Wants to use our technology" certainly implies to me that I can seek out Tesla's patent applications and attempt to build using them.

That definitely doesn't sound right to me, because it says "wants to use our technology." That implies awareness that one is using Tesla's technology, because otherwise this promise wouldn't mean anything since people who don't believe they're using Tesla's technology wouldn't think they fall under it anyway.

I am having trouble working out what it does mean, though. Based on the rest of the article, my best guess is "Does not act in a predatory manner toward other carmakers, such as initiating patent lawsuits of their own." Basically, I think Musk is trying to say that Tesla are willing to cooperate toward the goal of making electric cars a bigger presence if you are, but they don't want people using their patents in conjunction with underhanded tactics to try and monopolize the market.

Fun aside: Tesla patent wall in question via Steve Jurvetson


Inspite of all the negative reactions here, I applaud this move. The preceding statement to the one with 'good faith' is pretty important

>"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"

The interesting subtext here is that for Tesla to fulfil its potential more support for electric cars in wider society is needed, and while everyone else struggles to build electric cars the infrastructure won't catch up.

Opening up, in this sense, could be seen to be a selfish endeavour, but still a positive one, aiming to position Tesla as the Apple of the electric car market, only mildly less litigious.

I see this as essentially an open note to hardware tech companies asking them to come by and talk about licensing and interop deals without worrying that Tesla will be a hardcase about any possible IP infringement.

That may not have been their intention, but that's what came to mind for me as well.

He makes an interesting implicit argument - that it's okay to use patents to block established players from innovating with you, but not to block new startups from challenging you.

He's not saying that. He's arguing that, were Tesla not to take the patents, there was a good chance one of the established auto makers would have taken them. This would have been the problem, as the entrenched players probably would have used the patents to stifle innovation in order to maintain dominance.

What can an innovator do besides filing a defensive patent?

I've heard of various strategies like publishing the work in as many forums as possible; publishing it on IP.com; filing a patent application and withdrawing it; filing it and pledging; etc.

It would be nice if there were a step by step guide written by an attorney--ideally an ex-patent attorney--that goes lists the steps in order of priority/cost/ease for both individual innovators and companies with deeper pockets.

There used to be a mechanism called the "statutory invention registration" but that got eliminated in the 2013 AIA.

This is another option (although kind of outside the box in terms of what RPX normally used for), although it's likely to be pricey: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RPX_Corporation

There are almost no instances where patents turned out to be good for community. Wright Brothers stifled all competition by patent litigation causing US to be lightyears behind airplane tech. Edison similarly stifled lighbulb development causing Americans to pay for bad quality at higher prices than European counterparts. Steve Jobs tried to extinguish smartphone revolution causing funny things like removal of fairly generic features like pinch and zoom.

One would argue that they might not have been encouraged to invent these stuff if there were no patents. Even if that was true, the fact is that they had already ammassed massive fortunes even before they started patent wars. One would expect these visionary geniuses to let go patents in interest of advancing the state of art after they have gotten more money than they know how to reasonably spend. Elon Musk is the only one doing this here on the top of risking everything on fields that few entrepreneurs would dare. Hats off to him.

Interesting point:

> 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. 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.

I read this as effectively saying that it's easy for them to take this step, relative to companies in other industries (Apple, Google, Amazon, et al) because none of Tesla's competitors even have the ability to make use of their technology. Makes me wonder if Musk would have done the same thing if Tesla were a software company.

That's because he is being disingenuous there, he is not talking about money invested in R&D but percentage of electric cars in total sales.

Those companies have an established market share which correspond to a massive number of non-electric car sales, it is not surprising in the least that the new developing area they are coming in (electric) is being very small right now. That's doesn't mean they aren't doing a lot of R&D or lack the ability to uses those patents.

If I were building a giant battery factory, I would also encourage others to make electric cars.

Or if you wanted to be John D Rockefeller, rather than Henry Ford.

This is a bold move, and of course open to interpretation. But I am still optimistic about it. You can argue why they have patents in the first place, remember that if they didn't or sold it to a third party it will come back to bite their ass.

It is much better to hold the patent and allow others to used without being worried about getting sued. I am sure the big auto makers may consider taking advantage of this situation to crush tesla, but Elon Musk is known for not getting distracted by the petty things.

I really admire Elon Musk--a lot. His insight that Tesla’s real competition isn't the Fords, Chryslers, etc., but rather it’s the momentum behind gasoline cars. And, if that momentum is the actual competition, then that momentum/competition can be broken by open sourcing Tesla’s technology… I think that his specific move on patents (as it relates to the auto industry) is an excellent example of having the perfect balance of having customer obsession and being competition aware.

What I find hilarious about the discussions going on here is the fact that everyone's generally concentrating on the terrible pain of 'patent abuse', instead of the spectacularly obvious Elephant in the room which is trying to do as much as possible to stop the only home we currently have slowly turning into Venus (the hot, inhospitable planet, not the fictional Goddess of old).

Are there any legal documents that certify this? I'm not a lawyer, but would this post actually count as a "license"?

"We have essentially no patents in SpaceX. Our primary long-term competition is in China," said Musk in the interview. "If we published patents, it would be farcical, because the Chinese would just use them as a recipe book."

Perhaps Tesla relies on trade secrecy as well?

It´s easier to keep a rocket under trade secrecy than a car that can be disassembled and copied as soon as you got your hands on it.

This may be the wrong venue to say this, but the war against proprietary technology and patents doesn't totally make sense to me. I've read about many of the popular cases where large corporations use patents as a legal tactic to stall competitors, and I understand how it hurts innovation.

On the other hand, can't patents protect smaller companies? Open sourcing projects and technology has its case-by-case pros and cons. I agree the increase in open source adoption has had a largely positive impact on the development community. But there seems to be a lot of stigma against 'proprietary' as a whole.

How is your company supposed to grow if you can't protect your technology from being easily replicated by competitors?

> On the other hand, can't patents protect smaller companies? Open sourcing projects and technology has its case-by-case pros and cons. I agree the increase in open source adoption has had a largely positive impact on the development community. But there seems to be a lot of stigma against 'proprietary' as a whole.

You are conflating several concepts in the space of a paragraph.

Can patents protect smaller companies? Maybe, if you have the resources to defend yourself in court. If you are seeking investment, you can file for brain-dead patents as a way to prop up your valuation and quiet investor fears. Sadly, this seems to be the main motivation these days among startups.

'Open source' entails a public release of source code and associated artifacts under a copyright grant with certain freedoms. Traditionally, patent grants have not been a part of these licenses, probably because the pervasiveness of software patents is a relatively new phenomenon. It is only with version 3 of the GPL that it gained explicit patent grant and retaliation clauses, and most other open source licenses still don't have such clauses. But the bigger question is what 'open source' even means in the context of Tesla. It is not like they're going to release detailed plans and blueprints from production facilities and upwards that would allow competitors to make perfect replicas of Tesla cars.

'Proprietary' usually refers to trade secrets. If you file something as a patent, which is a form of public disclosure, it is no longer a trade secret.

Most of my peers are strongly against software patents. They don't consider it a moral obligation to open source your company's code or release proprietary information that represents a competitive advantage. In this moral framework, patenting is considered an anti-social act, and releasing source code and proprietary information are considered altruistic acts, ceteris paribus. Note that this doesn't mean that _not_ releasing source code is an anti-social act.

this is another marketing ploy. this is also the beginning of Elon preparing for his next career move. Elon's realizing he has hit the technical and economic limits of all battery vehicles and can't deliver. now that he has given away all his patents, he will make moves to distance himself from Tesla. he will hand over the reins to someone else. step away. start another unrelated business. and when tesla crashes and burns (no pun intended) he will be able to say it wasn't his fault, that he left them with all the tools and "they" couldn't make it happen. in the executive world they call it the "sideways shuffle" or the "Teflon shoulder".

Funny how the companies with the best engineering also tend to be those with the best business ethics. Kudos to Tesla for being once again disruptive and innovative in the risk-averse and ailing automotive industry.

Does Tesla want the big automakers to build cars with equal capabilities as the Model S? Assuming they did so, would they not be more cost-competitive due to economies of scale? Their mission of promoting sustainable transporation might be at odds with their fiduciary duty to their shareholders then.

If Tesla really wanted to see the big auto makers build more capable electric cars, AND if they also want to be a profitable enterprise, THEN, the best course of action would be to OEM the powertrain parts that they have already invested in inventing and building.

Note that Tesla owns the super charging stations, and is also aiming to stand up a large scale battery production facility. Assuming that the patents would lead to other auto-manufacturers to use the same standards that Tesla uses, this would mean that the would need to either build their own batteries, or buy them from Tesla. Since Tesla is making the Gigafactory so that the price of batteries will drop, it's likely to be cheaper to buy them from Tesla than standing up their own infrastructure to handle it. So, even if they aren't selling as many cars as the big automakers, they can still sell batteries and access to the super charging stations to the big players.

In any case, I think a sufficient amount of people would probably still buy a Tesla because of the brand recognition, even if the big auto-makers were making solid electric cars.

I wonder if this will spur WikiSpeed (an open source car group) to also support an electric engine module?


Didn't Twitter declare something similar?

Is there anything they can do that's binding outside of a declarative 'we won't sue you unless...' statement?

IIRC, Twitter's approach was to also give the inventor a transferable license to the patent. That way if Twitter used it offensively, the inventor could independently license the patent to the company who was being sued.

That's very reminiscent of the Spooner vs. Tucker argument about dual ownership of a patent; Spooner conceding to Tucker that co-inventors should each be able to freely license, then Tucker asking if one inventor were to give away the license to the world for free would he be infringing on the other inventor's rights.

Yes, they could hand over the patents to RPX, and pay the annual fee; instead of 'as protection' it would be 'as a donation to the public'. Perhaps an odd use of RPX, but it would be really effective.


> Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

What does that even mean? How do you make cars in bad faith?

This is a pretty good gesture. It will be good to spurt innovation since smaller players in the area don't need to worry about infringing.

What about the defensive measure? To defend against being sued. It would be good if Tesla pools the patents with others to form an "open patent" club where all the interested parties can join and use the patent to defend against infringement lawsuits.

Think you mean 'spur' not 'spurt'.

Sorry to be a pedant! Great points. :-)

Thanks for pointing out the error. I'll pay closer attention next time I use it. :)

These are big words, even coming from the extreme underdog in the auto industry.

What exactly is Elon committing to here? Is Tesla planning on releasing any design documentation, or technical specifications or manufacturing process information?

It's great that they won't enforce patents in an effort to not stifle innovation, but do they plan on taking any actions that will encourage innovation?

Since many auto manufacturing companies doing R&D and Tesla, having already created technologies good enough to bring to market, there will definitely be incentive for taking action. Tesla has already created technologies to run cars that rival (performance) gasoline cars, and access to those technologies/designs will accelerate their own EV efforts.

Their patents and patent applications will be published and should (in theory) enable someone to practice the inventions they cover.

It's not all give, there is some take. By bringing other manufacturers on board, Tesla gets more assistance in building their recharging network, which is a formidable undertaking. Similarly, the more manufacturers of viable electric vehicles there are, the more mainstream they are, and the larger the overall pie. Tesla does stand to gain something out of sharing.

Does anyone know if Musk requires non competes of Tesla's employees?

Separately using the "All Our Patent Are Belong To You" meme (as has been pointed out below by peterarmstrong ) appears to be a clear "in your face" to "the man".

Most people I would imagine aren't aware of this meme (I wasn't) and using it in a public press release seems a bit odd to me.

Finally Good PR actually means doing something good! hopefully companies/firms will do more advertising, marketing and PR that consists of contributing value to society and CSR. This will hopefully also shake up the awful inefficiencies within charities (not taking anything from the amazing work they do) instead of polishing a turd or diverting money to ads.

This is one of the most clear & succinct - and more importantly high exposure - statements on the value of open source that I've seen to date. The same message from other sectors like 3D printing has been thoroughly muddied by the proprietary side of the market - who have benefited from the expiration of key patents & widespread open source designs.

Translation: our pinch point is supplier scaling.

Without an explicit licensing agreement, one should consider the fate of Troy, even if Tesla's present intentions are good.

It i were Google (and manufacturing cars) or Volvo (who also has a impressive driverless car: http://goo.gl/qWU7DS ).

I would go all in on this. A niche product (in the current condition) and usable driverless electric cars.

You aren't really competing with Tesla, because you have a total different audience.

(1) I love this.

(2) Having limited legal knowledge, I'm curious what he means with "a lottery ticket to a lawsuit". Is he indicating that patenting something would make a company more likely to get sued? My basic understanding is the opposite, that patents yield protection from lawsuits rather than create exposure to them. Is this flawed?

Looking at software patents, I read (2) as saying that a patent is a lottery ticket, in which winning tickets are the patents someone accidentally infringed, thus opening a way for you to sue them out of their money.

Some speculation: This is necessary to close a deal on the huge battery plant. Not sure why I didn't think of this immediately given the timing.

Reason? The partner(s) want to sell all the capacity even if Tesla can't buy it all, and they want everyone to know there won't be any issue buying Tesla batteries.

So, would this mean that Tesla would be open to a cottage industry where anyone could start a company building a different body type on top of their drivetrain?

More specifically - could you just buy the S chassis/drivetrain from tesla and build say a delivery van body on top of it?

If it was anyone else I'd be a lot more skeptical. There is something different about this guy so he might just mean exactly what we would like him to mean. Mmm hmm, yeah, I'm going to stay positive until proven I shouldn't be.

I am more interested in the mentioning of "the spirit of the open source" part. Just image that if one day we are in a world that full of all those "open source electronic cars", to me it will just be too beautiful to see.

Well, seems as though projects like http://www.osvehicle.com/ and https://localmotors.com/ will be all over this.

Good move! At this point Tesla knows that market needs to be created and it is impossible to achieve unless auto industry works in tandem. Once the market expands, the pie is bigger for everybody.

I seem to recall that there is a precedent to this in the microcontroller market in the 1970s and 1980s (and possibly further in the past). Does anyone have link(s) to this business practice.

Is the title a reference to "all your base are belong to us?"

To answer my own question, yes and the Elon Musk reference is already added in wikipedia. That was quick.


I found it pretty weird that someone like Elon would make such a reference. The site just looks too professional for the out of place internet meme.

I can't help but think of Howard Aiken's words, "don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats."

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact