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In a seemingly philanthropic gesture, Electric carmaker Tesla has announced that it is giving its patents to the “open source movement” in an attempt to promote the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

As of the end of last year, Tesla had been issued 203 patents and had more than 280 patent applications pending with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and internationally, according to the company’s most recent annual report.

In announcing the news, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said in a blog post, ‘yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.’

Brian Love, a Santa Clara University law professor, said he has seen a ‘very positive reaction’ to Tesla’s decision, ‘there is an ongoing debate in this country about the costs and benefits patents bring to small companies,’ Love said. ‘In his statement, Elon Musk explains that, while he originally thought patents were worthwhile, he has since come to believe that they generally do more harm than good.’

It is important to note that Tesla is not actually allowing its patents to lapse, and Brian Love said it is not clear if Tesla is in fact ceding all its rights. ‘Rather, it seems to be simply promising not to proactively sue those who enter the electric car market and use similar technology,’ Love said.

Tesla will continue to apply for patents going forward, Elon Musk said, but only to protect itself from being hampered by patents taken out by others for the same technology.

This is an interesting move on Tesla’s part, and is seemingly quite generous. However, one thing to keep in mind is, should another use Tesla’s IP without a license agreement, it will be at the mercy of Tesla’s will in the future. That is to say, if Tesla changes its mind tomorrow about leaving its IP in the “open source” market, the company will be limited as to what it can do to defend itself.

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