from the competition-guides-innovation dept
While we’ve been criticizing some of Elon Musk’s actions and statements lately, we still stand by what we’ve said for years: that his view on patents is entirely, unquestionably, correct. In 2014, he pledged to open up all of Tesla’s patents. And when some investors insisted he didn’t really mean it, he clarified that he absolutely mean that anyone should just use anything they find in Tesla’s patents.
Musk: We actually don’t require any formal discussions. So they can just go ahead and use them.
Reporter: Is there a licensing process?
Musk: No. You just use them. Which I think is better because then we don’t need to get into any kind of discussions or whatever. So we don’t know. I think you’ll see it in the cars that come out, should they choose to use them.
There was a funny flurry of articles pointing out that this wasn’t an altruistic move, that it actually benefited Tesla, but, uh, yeah, that’s the point.
It’s good to see that Musk is still standing by that view, and not just for Tesla, but for SpaceX as well. Jay Leno just took a tour of SpaceX’s “Starbase” facility in Texas with Musk for Leno’s TV show, and they had a brief discussion on patents, where Musk made it clear that patents are stupid.
During the tour, Leno asked if SpaceX had a patent on the material used to build its ships. Musk replied that his spacecraft manufacturer ”[doesn’t] really patent things.”
“I don’t care about patents,” Musk told Leno. “Patents are for the weak.”
In Musk’s opinion, patents are “generally used as a blocking technique” that are designed to prevent others from innovating.
“They’re used like landmines in warfare,” he says. “They don’t actually help advance things; they just stop others from following you.”
You can see that brief bit of the segment in the video with this tweet:
It’s good to see him still making this point. As we’ve discussed for years, innovation leaders rarely actually need the patents other than to try to pull up the ladder behind them and stop competition. But history has shown that the way that new markets advance is when there are multiple competitors pushing each other to innovate. We’re finally seeing that with electric vehicles, and perhaps a bit with private space flight operations as well. Let the competition drive innovation, not have patents block off that innovation.
That said… for all of Musk’s talk about all this, that hasn’t stopped Tesla from going after EV competitor Rivian, claiming the company was “stealing trade secrets” after it hired a bunch of former Tesla employees. You can try to argue that trade secrets are different than patents, but if Musk’s underlying reason for freeing up Tesla’s patents was to encourage more competition and better develop the EV space, as he claimed, it’s hard to square that with the aggressive lawsuits against Rivian.