Ford Pretends To Open Up Its Patents Like Tesla, But Doesn't; Media Falls For It

from the bad-reporting-people dept

As you probably know by now, last summer, Elon Musk announced that he was freeing up all of Tesla’s patents. He pointed out that he didn’t believe patents made any sense, and they especially didn’t make sense in the electric vehicle space where they were clearly holding innovation back. Because some investors still couldn’t comprehend this — and assumed (for months!) that there must be some sort of catch, earlier this year Musk clarified that, yes, he really, really meant it, and Tesla’s patents were totally free. No need to obtain a license. No need to pay a fee. No need to talk to or tell Tesla about it — just go and innovate.

Earlier this week, Ford made an announcement claiming that it, too, was opening up its patents — but the details show that this is a lot more hype and PR than substance. First, unlike Tesla, it’s not all of its patents, but rather a specific portfolio of electric vehicle patents. Second, and much more importantly, it’s not open. At all. You still have to license them and you still have to pay. This is just Ford announcing “Hey, we have patents, come pay us to use them.” That’s not opening up those patents. It’s marketing the fact that you need to license them. This is the opposite of what Musk did with Tesla’s patents.

To access Ford?s patents and published patent applications, interested parties can contact the company?s technology commercialization and licensing office, or work through AutoHarvest ? an automaker collaborative innovation and licensing marketplace. AutoHarvest allows members to showcase capabilities and technologies, then privately connect with fellow inventors to explore technology and business development opportunities of mutual interest. The patents would be available for a fee.

And yet, nearly all of the press coverage worked exactly the way Ford intended: claiming that Ford was doing the same thing as Tesla. Here’s just a sampling:

That last one is particularly hilarious. The title doesn’t reference Tesla, but early in the article it does — and again falsely claims that Ford’s program is free:

If, as basic economic theory teaches, something is worth only what someone or group of people is willing to pay for it, then it seems the intellectual property associated with electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells is worthless.

Ford Motor is the latest car company to make this case. Today Ford joined Toyota Motor and Tesla Motors in making a vast range of patented electrification technologies available to its competitors. All free for serious EV developers.

Second, that’s not what basic economic theory teaches at all. It’s what ignorant armchair economists think it teaches. I know we have to go through this every few years, but price is not a measure of value. Price is determined by the intersection of supply and demand, and can be influenced by a number of different factors unrelated to value. The value to the buyer plays a role in determining the demand curve. Because if the price is less than the value derived, then that’s when the buyer is likely to buy. But giving something away does not, in any way, mean that something is worthless.

And, again, this article misses the basic fact that Ford is not giving these away for free.

And people wonder why news publications are struggling to hold onto readers.

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Companies: ford, tesla

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Comments on “Ford Pretends To Open Up Its Patents Like Tesla, But Doesn't; Media Falls For It”

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41 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

whats more disappointing is how Fords and other “american made” vehicles are designed to only last 6-8 years before they start falling apart. they could have reliability rates as good as Honda’s, but they chose not to because they earn more money if you get frustrated enough with the repairs.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

they could have reliability rates as good as Honda’s, but they chose not to because they earn more money if you get frustrated enough with the repairs.

It’s possible they make them that way to make them as cheap as possible to build (and therefore sell), and poor quality is just a natural effect of that decision. I like reliability and I’ll pay for it, but obviously a lot of people don’t mind.

Indy says:

“And people wonder why news publications are struggling to hold onto readers.”

By this measure, every time Techdirt makes a mistake, (and you’ve made many, including falling for several hoaxes and reported on nonexistent events as if they were the truth,) you would therefore lose readers? Interesting logic, there.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

and you’ve made many, including falling for several hoaxes and reported on nonexistent events as if they were the truth,

Several? Where? And on the few times there was a mistake they update the articles to warn the readers about the error. That specific line refers to how publications incur in various errors quite frequently and often don’t make any effort to fix them at all.

No, really, find a number of posts from TD that are blatantly wrong like those linked in the article and have no update pointing the issue that can fit the “several” criteria. I’ll wait.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

publications incur in various errors quite frequently
> and often don’t make any effort to fix them at all.

For various definitions of ‘fix’, those publications definitely ‘fix’ them in Hollywood media outlet style.

By silently rewriting the article to say something entirely different.

By silently removing the article.

By going legal on anyone who criticizes them.

And various other ‘fixes’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ah, the lovely strawman appears.

You can wait all you want with your shifted argument, how fun. Publications have issued corrections numerous times.

This article is making a specific claim that other publications are struggling holding onto readers due to some minor errors. My counterclaim is techdirt itself has reported entirely incorrect facts and with complete lack of editorial diligence. It would be absurd to suggest techdirt is losing readers due to these types of oversights.

In several of the articles, only the headline or minor text is misconstrued to be taken as incorrect, but the entire article in context mentions the license fees or the fact that it isn’t “free” but that it has fees. Or that they refer to Tesla as a model for this type of patent-giving. That isn’t altogether incorrect. Tesla “modeled” their “giving patents away” like other companies have done.

This article reads like we should be upset by this style of minor error reporting.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A couple of things… Minor errors? Really? A complete misunderstanding of the material at hand, and publishing an article that is effectively disinformation is a minor error?

Techdirt has made mistakes of this magnitude in the past. (They usually post corrections, but you’re correct, that’s neither here nor there.) This does not invalidate the claim that faulty reporting will lead to a loss in readership. There were a few instances in which techdirt nearly lost me as a reader due to blatant errors that invalidated the entire article.

This article isn’t about bashing the other news sites for getting it wrong (at least, not primarily, it does feel like Techdirt is gloating a bit, which is not cool given that they have made similar mistakes), but informing the readers, whp may also be readers of one of the other sites, that the information reported therein was not accurate, and to stop the spread of disinformation.

patrick hoffman says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It isnt though. Mouthbreathers saw a pr move by ford and thought to themselves “lets tie tesla into this, that will get some traffic.” And they all failed spectacularly. I was annoyed reading them. Glad someone called them on this.

And btw, sucking at your job will make people less interested in supporting you at it. Meaning if you cant report for shit(on common sense info staring you in the face) then people will care less for your publication.

I never come to this site(never even heard of it) but i really like it now just because of this article.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: making patents open?

This depends on what you mean by “open”. While patents are available for study and are “open” in the sense that you can look at them (ignoring the fact that patents are deliberately written to be as useless as possible in terms of learning about the tech that’s patented), but they are closed in the sense of you being able to use them.

“The patent office makes them open.”

Not so much. Patents only make them open when they expire. Until then, they make them closed.

But you’re absolutely right in terms of what Ford is doing. They’re not opening anything up at all. They’re just continuing on with business as usual while claiming that they’re opening something up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: making patents open?

In my view, Open and Free/Libre are not really the same thing…

This is why “open source” is such a misnomer… most people use this term to describe software that is Free/Libre Open Source, but there are open source licenses out there that prevent you from actually using the source to create derivative works. The OSI may not recognize these as “open source licenses”, but they are open, nonetheless.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: making patents open?

“The OSI may not recognize these as “open source licenses”, but they are open, nonetheless.”

The term “open source” is a different subject entirely. You’re right, in that the term has been bastardized to the point that it borders on uselessness. While I do not take any definition OSI puts forth as gospel, I do disagree with you here, though: the types of licenses you are describing are not “open source” in any meaningful sense, even if they use the term.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: making patents open?

there are open source licenses out there that prevent you from actually using the source to create derivative works.

Those aren’t actually open source. From the Open Source Initiative:

Open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code. The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria: […]

3. Derived Works
The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

If you can’t use the source code to create derivative works, then it is not open source, any more than “freeware” is “free software.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: making patents open?

As far as I know, there is no standardized way of patent-lefting. It is not a concept the USPTO recognizes. It is a one way gate in terms of regulation. Which is why protocols and standards are generally not patentable.

Teslas announcement, was simply a commitment not to defend their patents. While they may grant rights to anyone now, that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t later refuse to grant them.

The USPTO grants recognition of a minor tyrannies, it does not grant recognition of minor freedoms. That is why EEE works.

DannyB (profile) says:

Words have multiple definitions

Free:
* free as in speech or as in freedom (open source)
* free as in beer (freeware)
* free as in the first hit is free (called ‘microsoft’ free)

Open:
* open as in transparent
* open as in available for anyone to use
* open as in a roach motel, fruit fly trap, or Venus fly trap
* open as how a leech opens your vein to suck out patent royalties

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

ATT , VZW, Same, Same

Remember when AT&T said they were “opening” their network, (which they actually did because it was part of the 700MHz license terms, and because their phones use the GSM standard, which means that any SIM-ready GSM device could already be put on their network.)

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20071206/030232.shtml

And, then VZW had to respond in kind that they were going “open”…which basically meant very little.

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080319/162702587.shtml

Le plus ca change, le plus ca reste la meme.

Hard for me to say who my main hero is more, Elon Musk or Ed Snowden.

Teamchaos (profile) says:

Hold the outrage

Ford’s press release clearly states that the patents would be available for a fee. You can read the press release here (this link is included in the TD article): http://electrek.co/2015/05/28/ford-follow-teslas-lead-and-open-all-their-electric-vehicles-patents/

Some of the news outlets got it wrong in their reporting, but that’s hardly Ford’s fault. A company does not have to make their patents available for other companies to use. Ford allowing other companies to use their patents for what they refer to as “a reasonable fee” is a step in the right direction even if not as big a leap as what Tesla did.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Hold the outrage

Ford’s press release clearly states that the patents would be available for a fee. You can read the press release here (this link is included in the TD article): http://electrek.co/2015/05/28/ford-follow-teslas-lead-and-open-all-their-electric-vehicles-patents/

Actually I link to and quote the press release in my post, but I totally disagree with you. Ford’s own press release headline states:


FORD OPENS PORTFOLIO OF PATENTED TECHNOLOGIES TO COMPETITORS TO ACCELERATE INDUSTRY-WIDE ELECTRIFIED VEHICLE DEVELOPMENT

It’s quite clear they were trying to imply that they were doing the same as Tesla. But, yes, the fine print walks all of it back.

But really this post is about the press falling for Fords PR trick.

william (profile) says:

I have a question.

The original techdirt article on Tesla “freeing up” all their patents says, and I quote,

As for the actual way this will work, Tesla has announced that it “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

compare this to what Ford is doing, I honestly fail to see how Tesla is different than Ford.

Tesla: go ahead and use it, and TRUST US not to sue you for infringement or money (but we can change our minds any time)

Ford: These patents are available, but check with OUR LICENSING first and we can draw up a deal (which may or may not involve money)

End result, neither of them are really “free” to be honest.

So why praise Tesla while slamming Ford? (not that I particularly like Ford or anything)

Zonker says:

Re: Re:

Because legally in order to allow everyone to use Tesla’s patents for free they would have to issue licenses to anyone who requests one even if they collect no money in return. This would be a lot of unnecessary work and an obstacle to open adoption of the patented technology. If Tesla could retract their patents somehow, then they would lose the opportunity to assert them defensively should another company like Ford start a patent infringement lawsuit against them over related technology.

This way, Tesla can still use their patents defensively against competitors suing them, you don’t need to apply for a free license to use it, and those who simply want to use Tesla’s patented technology are protected by promissory estoppel should Tesla break its promise.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

compare this to what Ford is doing, I honestly fail to see how Tesla is different than Ford.

Very different. First of all, we have the second link that further clarifies what Tesla is doing:

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150217/06182930052/elon-musk-clarifies-that-teslas-patents-really-are-free-investor-absolutely-freaks-out.shtml

Ford is saying “hey, come talk to us about paying for a license to our patents.” Tesla is saying “we’re rejecting the patents, go ahead and use it, you don’t even need to tell us.”

Tesla: go ahead and use it, and TRUST US not to sue you for infringement or money (but we can change our minds any time)

Ford: These patents are available, but check with OUR LICENSING first and we can draw up a deal (which may or may not involve money)

That’s not it. Tesla has made a public declaration that the patents are in the public domain. Any lawsuit would fail based on an implicit license.

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