Tesla and now Nasa: Will opening patents revive innovation?

October 14, 2015

Opensource Patents

Last year, electric car manufacturer Tesla announced that it would be making many of its most secret and proprietary intellectual property available to the world by opening its patents. Now NASA has made a similar announcement as it makes more than 1,000 of its patented technologies available for use by startup companies. Have both of these technology giants decided to throw in the towel on innovation?

Actually, the reverse is likely true. NASA, Tesla and other recognized industry leaders have spent decades amassing patent portfolios. More than that, they have employed vast resources in defending those portfolios. Some of these mammoth organizations are starting to wonder if they might actually be able to foster innovation by not being so proprietary with their intellectual property.

Tesla’s Reversal

Tesla cited this reason in 2014 when founder Elon Musk made many of the company’s most exclusive innovations public knowledge. Musk doesn’t believe that the electric cars built by other automotive manufacturers are his competition. Instead, he believes that he is in direct competition with the veritable flood of cars that operate with internal combustion engines. Figuring that letting other car companies get a hold of his exclusive intellectual property might spark some real innovation, Musk took a risky step.

NASA’s Reversal

With a similar goal, NASA recently announced a startup initiative that is aimed at addressing two of the biggest problems faced by new business owners. These problems are a lack of capital and the difficulty of obtaining intellectual property rights. To help resolve these issues, NASA is making a database of some of its most innovative patented ideas available to businesses that have been operating for fewer than three years. The businesses are free to develop and innovate the patented technology any way they wish. If the product they design is eventually offered for sale, they will begin paying NASA a royalty. However, there is no upfront cost associated with use of the patented technology. This makes it easier than ever for a startup to develop some new and highly innovative products that might be of benefit to consumers all over the world.

The About-Face

This trend is a sharp reversal from the usual tendency of large companies when it comes to intellectual property. More frequently, big corporations are known for patent hoarding, or trying to corner the market on certain important technologies, rather than making their innovations available for free to everyone. Patents are intended to slow competition, giving an inventor time to capitalize on their innovation before others can use it as well. However, this strategy by Tesla and NASA may make it easier for novice inventors and entrepreneurs to get into a business that was previously beyond their reach.

If you are interested in obtaining patent protection for an invention, contact the Law Office of Jeff Williams. Jeff is an experienced Texas intellectual property attorney who helps companies and individual inventors protect their intellectual property rights. With his legal knowledge and technical experience Jeff can help you obtain patent protection for your innovation.

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