Patents have often been seen as a necessary evil required to protect innovators from having their ideas stolen. However, they can also limit the development of a new industry, keep innovation at bay, and smother technological advancement. If we are to use business as a force for good, then we should welcome competition and relax fixation on intellectual property.

Very impressed by the news that electric car company, Tesla Motors have frozen their patent portfolio to help accelerate sustainable transport. In the spirit of the open source movement, the company’s CEO, ​Elon Musk announced that Tesla won’t raise patent lawsuits against anyone who uses their technology in good faith.

 

Just last week, a wall of patents was removed from the company’s Palo Alto headquarters to demonstrate the message. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Image from Tesla

In a blog post, Elon said:

“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.”

 

He added: 

“Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers.”

As it stands, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to make a major positive impact upon carbon emissions. So, more concerned about the industry failing than competitors stealing their technology, Tesla has freed up patents to speed up the advancement of electric vehicle technology. In new industries, competitors can help develop a market.  More suppliers, developers and researchers could lead to lower costs, rapidly evolving technology and more innovation, which could turn window shoppers into customers.

Tesla electronic car
Image from James Lipman courtesy of Tesla
Talking at B Team forum

I echo former The B Team CEO, Derek Handley who said: “By holding on tightly to the knowledge and protection of ideas and intellectual property that is enabling this race to gain momentum, they are holding the world back from getting to where we all want it to be.”

Elon is a good friend of mine. I hope many more entrepreneurs follow his spirit of ingenuity and initiative.  

At Virgin, we welcome competition – it challenges us to constantly innovative and improve. We have never sought to monopolise a market, but instead to disrupt, improve and reimagine the current state of play to the benefit of customers. This latest Tesla announcement is a win for innovation, technology and customers, and great step in the right direction for business.  

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