We are navigating an age of humongous technological advancement, including artificial intelligence. And hence, it’s heartening to see business, politics, human rights activism, and technology coming together to tackle global issues, like energy crises, the lack of sustainable power sources, and environmental degradation. A United Nations scientific panel said, “Avoiding this damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has ‘no documented historic precedent’.”
However, this prescribed transformation becomes difficult when technology and IT giants closely guard their innovations with patents that are too expensive for creators to license and improve. Elon Musk wants to break away from that tradition.
On January 31, Musk announced that he will be releasing all patents associated with Tesla, an electric car manufacturer.
Who is Elon Musk?
CEO of Tesla Motors (TM) and global billionaire, Musk has sold close to 300,000 electric cars all over the world. He harbours a dream of creating a massive renewable energy company that deals in solar panelling and affordable transport sustainable in the long run.
TM not only produces enviable and disruptive car technology, but also owns close to 300 patents that cover car battery designs, structure, and charging and cooling systems. Therefore, his decision to release all patents related to his electric cars is a monumental one.
NDTV reported that Tesla “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology”. Musk added, “Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport… If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles but lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal.”
Money Control reported that Musk previously felt the need to protect large car manufacturers from imitating his work and profiting off it. However, he now seems to have changed his mind. “We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite,” he said, “that clean energy cars are the minority at major manufacturers, if they exist at all.”
Why does this matter?
Ironically, Musk’s decision follows the news that the FBI charged Jizhong Chen, a Chinese national and an Apple employee, with stealing company secrets related to a self-driving car project.
The US is known to have a litigating culture that fiercely protects intellectual property and the rights of creators. But Musk’s words express cynicism over the use of such patents and question whether or not they’re necessary in all industries.
Saying that patents “stifle progress”, Musk has essentially decided to decentralise his electric car designs and systems. This means innovators and engineers all over the world, including in India, can use his work as a model to further develop renewable energy and transport systems.
A move this radical could not have come at a more opportune time, especially for India. Our government recently drafted policies to invest in electric charging stations for electrical fleets and outlined plans to roll out electric vehicles in nine of the country’s most polluted cities, including Mumbai and Delhi.
Livemint reported that India has a target of 40% electricity generation from non-fossil fuel-based sources by 2030. The country also aims to have 15% electric vehicles in the next five years. China, too, has offered attractive incentives and subsidies for battery-powered cars in an effort to reduce oil imports, said the Economic Times.
Musk’s decision to release his company’s patents has far-reaching consequences, like changing global transport systems and increasing the number of research and technological projects in developing countries. He has also made the first move in removing the monopoly of rich and developed countries over technological advancement, and India need only be smart and take advantage of this development.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius
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