Virgin pats Tesla on the back for...what, exactly?


In a recent post on Virgin's blog, Celebrated CEO Richard Branson celebrates Tesla head Elon Musk for freezing "their patent portfolio to help accelerate sustainable transport."

The idea being, with the future of EV cars at stake, why not allow all the other competitors to have a peek at the technology to make them as good as possible. Makes sense on one level, and I'm sure car companies will help themselves. But saving the market? Only if they charge the same 1% rate for their vehicles as Tesla.

Case in point, last month, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said he hope people don't buy Fiat's EV version because he loses money on it every time it gets sold. This is a quote from Marchionne: "I hope you don't buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000," he said to the audience at the Brookings Institution about the 500e. "I'm honest enough to tell you that."

In other words, the biggest factor right now in why EV cars aren't selling like hotcakes isn't that we don't care about the the environment, and it's not about lack of innovation or the secret conspiracy to destroy the EV once and for all. (Sorry, Copyleft nutjobs.) It's more like, people don't have the money to buy it. Even Fiat's $32,650, is still a weighty price tag. Green as you may want to be, if you don't have the money to spend, it's a moot point.

The huge news that Elon Musk has "opened up" Tesla patents for all is both smart PR and an over-promise. At first read, his blog post with the snarky title "All our Patent Belong To You" could only have been written by someone with a vision, and with such a ridiculous amount of money, they don't need to count on their IP anymore. Good for him. But if you read the post very carefully you see there are some well-chosen words, (emphasis is mine.)

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.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

Meaning...what exactly?
Gigacom Explains this non news blog post further. Patents by their own nature, are open. "When an inventor submits an application to the patent office, an examiner will lay it open for all to see and then decide if it is new and non-obvious enough to receive a patent. That is the trade-off at the heart of the patent system: inventors are given an incentive in the form of a limited monopoly to share their invention and, in return, society gets to learn how they made it."

Gigacom also explains that patents aren't "given away," they're assigned for the duration of the patent. More importantly, Tesla has other ways of protecting its IP, with trademarks, and trade secrets and I have no doubt if I start selling Tesla merch without their authorization I'm going to get a Cease and Desist and then a lawsuit for damages and payments.

So this is more good faith non-gesture designed to garner PR in the tech world, while the Copyleft chest bumps. It should go without saying we at Adland are very protective of IP. I would assume most people who work in the creative department are. It probably needs to be explained that we are allowed to be pro IP and still point out faults within copyright and patent law, which are two very different areas. Just because we're on the side of intellectual property, it doesn't mean we can't support law while working to reform it, not remove it entirely.

Back to Branson. Sorry but his breathless post congratulating his billionaire bud was ridiculous. Branson, who also calls Musk's action "freeing up" patents, ends by aligning his company's values with Tesla's.

"At Virgin, we welcome competition – it challenges us to constantly innovative and improve. We have never sought to monopolise a market, but instead to disrupt, improve and reimagine the current state of play to the benefit of customers. "

Very odd, considering Virgin Atlantic Airways tried to sue Delta (and failed) over a patent. They've also been in a long-running patent dispute with Rovi. Not to mention this one against Zodiac Seats.

So maybe Branson meant Virgin is totally aligned with the idea except when it comes to its media and airlines? Yeah, that must be it.

about the author

kidsleepy 17 year copywriter, now CD, who has worked in many cities including Pittsburgh, New York, Atlanta, Montreal and currently Los Angeles. I snark because I care. I ain't complainin' I'm just tellin' it like it is.

Comments (2)

  • Dabitch's picture

    Was Branson aiming for a buzzword-du-jour BINGO adding words like "disrupt" into his post? It's just corporations posturing.

    Jun 19, 2014
  • kidsleepy's picture

    Clearly. It's just easier to get away with the posture if one has no way of googling your past...

    Jun 19, 2014

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