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Shem Nyachieo
University of Cincinnati Student. (Art, Design, & Photography)
University of Cincinnati Student. (Art, Design, & Photography)

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Tesla Motors: Please infringe on our patents for the greater good

Patents no longer hang on the wall of Tesla Motors’ Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters.

The change in decor represents a bold, altruistic declaration from the electric car maker, which will permit anyone to use its electric-vehicle technology, patents be damned.

“Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote in a statement today, citing the spirit of the open-source movement.

“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.”

Musk hopes the move will encourage large automakers to invest more heavily in electric vehicles, which still represent what he says is “far less than 1 percent of their vehicle sales.” Earlier in the company’s life, Tesla patented its technology to protect itself against larger competitors seeking to steal its technology and overwhelm the electric car startup — but that threat never materialized, said Musk.

The auto industry tends to safeguard its secrets — or license designs for pricey fees — so we have little precedent for an “open-source” mentality among carmakers. The most prominent example dates back to the early 1960s, when Volvo decided to give away the patent for its three-point seat belt to improve car safety.

While that move was humanitarian, Tesla stands to benefit financially from sharing its technology with other auto manufacturers (beyond improving its already stellar reputation among consumers). If some Tesla tech becomes a standard “platform” for future electric cars, that may prompt other companies to build products compatible with its vehicles — like new charging stations, which are essential to Tesla’s viability as a long-distance travel option.

Leaders in the technology industry are applauding Tesla’s stance.

“In a nutshell, I think that Elon has set a great example for the rest of the industry and everyone should follow,” Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, told VentureBeat.

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