Why Tesla’s Open Patents Will Help the World… and Tesla

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2014

Several weeks ago, the recently spotlighted Tesla Motors (famous for making high-end electric cars) made a very unusual announcement.  They said that they will not sue anyone who, “in good faith,” uses their technology in electric vehicles.  This is a hugely different approach from nearly every other big business we see today.  In our trigger-happy lawsuit world, companies patent everything they possible can, fearing that someone out there will rip them off.  However, sharing ideas is the fastest way for people to innovate, instead of forcing them to reinvent someone else’s wheel every time they want to make a product.

Tesla has acknowledged that there are not very many electric cars being sold today.  Tesla wants the world to move away from gasoline, and move towards environmentally friendly, fuel-efficient electric vehicles.  They want other companies to be able to create quality electric cars, so they’re giving them the tools to do so.  I applaud Tesla for using their own intellectual property to support a cause in which they believe.  Tesla didn’t have to share their innovations; they could have kept them to themselves, to try to make people buy their products (and not someone else’s).  By sharing their technology, Tesla is giving a huge engineering boost to anyone who wants it.

As noble as this is, you might think that Tesla is shooting themselves in the foot.  Not at all.  Sure, some people may have been turned off by Tesla’s high prices.  These people may instead by an electric car made by Ford, or GM.  These are potentially lost sales for Tesla.  However, some people may have been turned off from a Tesla car simply because it’s electric.  Tesla does offer free electricity for life at their Supercharger stations nationwide.  But if an individual doesn’t live near many stations, they won’t buy a Tesla.  Fortunately, Tesla has also said that it is willing to partner with other car manufacturers and let them use Tesla’s stations (splitting the operating costs, of course).  This puts Tesla into an enormously positive Catch-22: the more people that buy electric cars, the more charging stations there will be.  The more charging stations, the more people will buy electric cars.

Tesla (as a group of environmentally-conscious people) will benefit from their patent release when they see other manufacturers making electric cars.  Tesla (as a business) will benefit as electric cars become more and more mainstream.  Now I’m not saying Tesla is selfish.  I’m saying they’re ingenious.  The great minds at Tesla have found a perpetual win-win, promoting environmentally friendly transport, and also making some money while they’re at it.  Hey, no one ever said the good guy couldn’t benefit from his actions.  ••


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