Elon Musk, already the startup world’s favourite entrepreneur, took a step closer to all our hearts yesterday when he open sourced all of Tesla’s patents. His thoughts about patents in general are spot on:

When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.

We were talking about patents in the office yesterday saying that for the startups we invest in patents are sometimes worth having because they impress large companies in partnership discussions and at exit, but that’s about it. The trick to protecting yourself is to keep innovating. Elon put it like this:

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. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

  • Mark Hammond

    In early stage deep tech they’re definitely more relevant than perceived value at exit, they give you the breathing space to innovate, with out them established players and trolls will use them as a weapon. I’m only commenting because I see more and more startups with young founders seeing them as completely unnecessary and subsequently leaving themselves open to substantial risk in a world where producing things just isn’t that tough any more. I love what Tesla has done here but unfortunately it’s only possible now they’ve had the breathing space to build a brand around that technology.

  • Agreed for deep tech. Not so much for the companies we invest in.