patents, “it’s for the weak”

The sulphurous billionaire has again tackled head-on industrial property, which he considers counterproductive in terms of innovation.

Recently, Elon Musk once again stood out with a divisive protrusion that already promises to get people talking. Guest on Jay Leno’s Garage on CNBC, he violently attacked patents and the industrial property system in general.

It all started with a relatively innocent question from its host Jay Leno, who wanted to know if SpaceX had patented the materials used to build its rockets. And the person concerned was not asked to draw. ” I don’t care about patents” he launched before adding laconically: “patents are for the weak”.

A positioning not necessarily surprising on the part of this sulphurous billionaire, known for his technological liberalism and his desire to encourage extremely rapid innovation. And this opinion on the industrial property system is a continuation of this philosophy.

“Like mines in wartime”

He sees patents as barriers to innovation that simply don’t exist. According to him, they pull the rug out from under the feet of innovative players who could advance the industry even faster, with beneficial spin-offs for the entire population.“ [Les brevets] are used as mines in times of war “, he then dropped. ” They don’t help get things done; they just prevent others from following you. »

CNBC also points out that this isn’t the first time Musk has fired live ammunition at patents. In an interview with Wired published in 2012, he already considered that these patents were simply useless for anything related to industrial espionage. They would even be counterproductive in this context, since patenting a technology also implies publishing the associated technical documentation.

“Our main long-term competitor is in China “, he explained then. ” If we publish these patents, it would be grotesque, because the Chinese would use them as a recipe book”. And it can hardly be proven wrong on this level, as we saw again recently with a clumsy Chinese copy of a Tesla (see our article).

In 2014, in a memo to Tesla employees, he also believed that patents ” only serve to slow progress, cement the positions of giant corporations and enrich legislators, rather than the real inventors “.


A positioning (almost) consistent with the facts…

He also made a point of specifying that his companies did not usually lock his technologies in this way. “In essence, we have no patents at SpaceX,” he explained, adding that this also applied to Tesla – to a lesser extent. Musk’s companies have all the same several patents in their names, but they mostly focus on vehicle design, charging port, and self-driving technology. Everything concerning the engine, on the other hand, remains more or less freely accessible.

In addition, Tesla has already communicated officially on this subject. In its legal texts, it is written black and white that the company has ” made an irrevocable undertaking not to sue anyone who uses any of these patents in the course of an activity related to electric vehicles as long as the third party in question acts in good faith “.

Once is not custom, it is therefore difficult to accuse Musk of hypocrisy, unlike the time when he had called for the removal of all subsidies (see our article).

Recall that one of Tesla’s claimed goals is to encourage a large-scale transition to electric vehicles to combat the climate crisis. SpaceX, for its part, wants to open the doors of space to all humanity. Objectives that could be described as humanistic, at least on paper.

Blocking all these discoveries in these fields, particularly with regard to the motorization of electric vehicles or the technology of its rockets, would therefore be fundamentally hypocritical. By displaying its desire to share the technologies of its companies, as long as it is a question of advancing the industry as a whole, this time it remains more or less straight in its boots.

…for the moment !

Interestingly, however, for Musk, the ” sincerity “ ends where its definition of industrial espionage begins – that is, at the borders of the United States.

© SpaceX

Even if he continues to repeat that Tesla and SpaceX are at the service of humanity, we can still legitimately ask ourselves some questions: Would Musk be so magnanimous if his companies weren’t arch-dominant? in their respective fields, or if these technologies brought out a sizeable competitor in Europe or China – the claimed best enemy of Uncle Sam?

It’s anything but a guarantee; after all, it’s easy enough to show leniency when its main competitors are light years away from being able to imitate it. It will therefore be very interesting to observe its reaction if another company one day produces a carbon copy of its electric cars, or even its rockets. Not sure he’s that understanding.

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