Tesla Electric Car Patents Made Public

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This post is an expanded version of one item from Planet Waves’ environmental newsletter. Called the Monsanto Eco Newsletter, this weekly publication is free; you can sign up here. This week’s full issue is available here. — Amanda

Named for Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor who stopped patenting his ideas due to legal frustrations, electric automaker Tesla Motors of California announced it will give away its entire patent portfolio, the Associated Press reported June 13.

A Model S at a Supercharger station; photo by Tesla Motors.

A Model S at a Supercharger station; photo by Tesla Motors.

Tesla Motors makes highly innovative, fully electrical cars that have had issues gaining domestic market traction (though they’ve been a big hit in Norway); Tesla takes the interesting approach of only selling direct to its customers to save commissions and keep costs down. However, most U.S. states limit or ban direct-to-consumer car sales.

Although Tesla has followed the typical Silicon Valley approach to marketing new technology (aiming for affluent buyers first, then broadening offerings to more middle-income buyers as technology is finessed, like with cell phones), it has from the outset been guided by the goal of hastening electric vehicle technology throughout the world.

That technology was nearly crushed by the U.S. automotive industry in the mid-1990s, as outlined by the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car. The film details the roles of automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, the U.S. government, the California government and consumers in first fostering and then curtailing the development and adoption of electric vehicles.

Nearly 5000 electric cars were designed and manufactured by a handful of makers, only to be recalled and destroyed (a few were donated to museums and educational institutions). Tesla introduced its Roadster — which uses an alternative battery technology and an AC motor descended directly from Nikola Tesla’s original 1882 design — two years after the film’s release.

General Motors’ former vice president told The New Yorker in 2009, “All the geniuses here at General Motors kept saying lithium-ion technology is 10 years away, and Toyota agreed with us — and boom, along comes Tesla. So I said, ‘How come some tiny little California startup, run by guys who know nothing about the car business, can do this, and we can’t?’ That was the crowbar that helped break up the log jam.”

Telsa Motors, in being a tech startup rather than an established auto manufacturer entwined with the oil industry, seems to be at an advantage in the electric car field, sharing a philosophy that’s closer to that held by many Internet pioneers rather than old-school industrialists.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote on the company blog that the patents were being released “in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

“By opening its patents, Tesla rightly realizes it’s better to be the best product in a large industry than the only product in a niche one,” noted Silicon Valley entrepreneur Aaron Levie.

The planet’s environment stands to be the biggest beneficiary: electric cars make up less than 1% of U.S. sales, partly due to concerns about their range and charging station availability (not to mention industry’s setback in the 1990s).

Tesla Motors has also built a network of fast-charging Supercharger stations to facilitate longer distance journeys in their Model S (Tesla’s luxury sedan and second model, after the high-end Roadster sports car; a lower-price, higher-volume model is in the works).

As of May 2014, there are at least 90 Supercharger stations across the U.S., with all stations in the West Coast corridor supplied by solar power. Solar is the target source for all Supercharger stations, which Musk asserts will always be free for all Tesla owners to use.

Tesla’s earliest patent (out of 203 patents, with another 280 pending) expires in 2026 — at which point collaborations on cars at lower-than-luxury price points could put Tesla’s technology in the hands of significantly more climate-conscious drivers.

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4 Responses to Tesla Electric Car Patents Made Public

  1. Lunesoleil says:

    Thank you Amanda on Tesla who was the first inventor of free energy and finance this project was abandoned.

    I write an article on Tesla who is alsoa asteroid, do a search on my blog ♡♥♥♥♡

  2. Len Wallick Len Wallick says:

    Amanda: Thank you for a truly informative news story which is also a pleasure to read. Your craft as a writer and your moral compass as a person are both highly inspirational.

  3. Amanda Painter Amanda Painter says:

    right on, jere!

    yes, i’m really fascinated by Tesla’s decision & hope it sets a precedent. it might not win over the dyed-in-the-wool corporate industrialists, but i’m hoping that more of the “start-up types” will see that having a vision and a mission that’s broader than the profit margin (while not ignoring the profit margin) can really pay off — and the collaboration, rather than secrecy, is the way to go.

  4. jere jere says:

    I’m hella stoked Tesla opened up the patents (I honestly can’t stand the patent industry). They’re absolutely smart to allow others to refine the technology. If more folk understood that, the better off all of us would be, the better off all of us are… With half a brain, they’ll do well.

    Open Source is the way to go.. it may not make one a gazillionaire,.. but it might.. and maybe we’ll all be able to work together to make this planet a decent place for ALL to live on.

    ..I’ll keep on waking up once in a while to observe the progress… ’til then, I’ll dream of the most beautiful things in the Universe!..



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