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Deep dive into Tesla Motors pseudo open source Patent plan

Earlier today, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced a new Patent model for Tesla Motors, and in writing my blog post I came up with several questions. What does it mean Tesla won’t sue other automakers so long as their use of Tesla’s patents are in “good faith”? Will Tesla keep filing for new patents? Will they be releasing exact designs? They used the phrase “Open Source” but do they really mean it? I’ve now listened to the Media Q&A call, and not only are the questions answered, but it underscores just how much Tesla Motors groks a number of cool ideas.

Of course the devil is in the details, but the statements made by Elon Musk to the journalists and analysts on the call were very helpful. Tesla Motors is right on the money with openness. Tesla Motors is acting in the spirit of Open Source, at least in terms of broad brush strokes.

Don’t get confused (like most of the journalists on the call) that Tesla has “open sourced” their patent portfolio. That’s far from the truth. There are important “Open Source” elements which Tesla Motors is not going to implement. For example, one sign of “bad faith” would be if an automaker built a car which cloned one of Tesla’s cars so completely that it confused the public into thinking it was a Tesla. One of the core tenants of Open Source is the freedom to clone other peoples products.

Real Open Source projects give others all kinds of freedom – the freedom to modify – the freedom to clone – the freedom to share with others. The real Open Source model is what’s skyrocketed the World Wide Web into such prominence over the last 20+ years. As we’re about to see, Tesla Motors is giving away lots of access to technology, but the model is not “real Open Source” so don’t let the automotive journalists confuse you.
Why? Why is Tesla Motors opening its patent portfolio?

Elon Musk spoke of several reasons, but towards the end of the call he made a compelling point. Namely, he said most people don’t understand the gravity of what’s going on with global warming and the inertia of the climate system. We as a species of animals inhabiting this planet don’t have time to wait, but have to move full speed ahead at adopting cleaner technologies. Such as, a rapid increase in the rate of electric vehicle adoption.


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