Open Access for Electric Car Patents

June 18, 2014

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk speaks during the Model S Beta Event held at the Tesla factory in FremontElectric car pioneer, Elon Musk, has reportedly opted to make key patents associated with the electric car technology he developed openly available for use by other companies.  This action could provide an important boost in support of expansion of electric car use.  It also provides an excellent illustration of the increasingly popular strategy of open access to important intellectual property.

Elon Musk, the creator of PayPal, has long been one of the leading proponents of electric car technology development and use.  As founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, Musk has played a major role in the creation of the electric car industry.

The patents Musk apparently plans to make available are associated with the electric charging technology associated with the cars.  Musk has patented :”Superchargers” which provide fast battery re-charging for the cars.  The Supercharger technology is an important component of the network of re-charging stations Musk wants to build and make available to electric car users.  The re-charging stations provide the electric car equivalent of the gas stations used by traditional vehicles.  Drivers could re-charge their electric car batteries for free at the charging stations.

According to reports, Musk plans to permit open access to the Supercharger patents for use by all other electric car manufacturers.  In this way, all electric cars could be manufactured so that they can make use of the network of free charging stations, and the manufacturers of those vehicles would not be required to pay any royalties or other fees to Musk.

One of the open issues currently impeding expansion of electric car use is the challenge of re-charging the vehicles when they are away from their home base.  Greater use of electric cars requires development of an extensive network of re-charging stations to support travel covering greater distances.

By making the Supercharger patents openly available for use by other car makers, Musk apparently hopes to create a set of common standards for all re-charging stations.  This standardization can help to facilitate more rapid deployment of the network of re-charging stations.

The decision to permit open access to key battery charging technology is an important boost for the electric car industry.  It can help to advance the development of the vital re-charging station network.  In this way it can make a critical contribution in support of greater electric car use.

Musk’s strategy for the Supercharger technology also provides a significant and extremely useful model for intellectual property rights management.  There are many instances in which open access to patents and other forms of intellectual property can foster more rapid expansion of new products, services, and markets.

In many cases, strict enforcement of intellectual property rights may yield short-term economic gains but may also impede market creation and growth.  Musk’s intellectual property strategy for the Supercharger technology is creative and wise.  It could provide an important foundation for dramatic expansion of the electric vehicle industry.  In this way the open access approach could lead to significant economic benefits for Tesla Motors, its competitors, and consumers.