Elon Musk patent hypocrisy on display in growing SolarCity patent portfolio


Elon Musk

Elon Musk is a very smart businessman and is now using that acumen to tap a new market. Recently it was announced that SolarCity Corp. (NASDAQ:SCTY), a solar energy firm based in San Mateo, CA, and chaired by Musk, would be targeting small and midsize businesses that can handle solar arrays of 500 kilowatts or less. SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive, Musk’s cousin, was quoted by The Los Angeles Times, describing this market as underserved due to a lack of available products and high costs for solar energy. Part of the financing plan developed by SolarCity for this campaign relies upon Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs whereby state and local governments pay the up-front costs for solar array installation and charge the property owner over a period of years on his or her property tax bill.

There’s a narrative that has been written about Elon Musk in recent years. Last December, Musk, his “plan to save the world” through lithium-ion battery technologies and his Mars colonization plans were profiled in an ABC News segment by reporter Barbara Walters. As the CEO of Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA), SpaceX and chair of SolarCity, Musk has high-ranking positions in corporations positioned in alternative energy and space exploration industries, making him a media darling in these days of climate change fears. The man is so universally beloved that he’s been praised in the Internet pages of the Daily Kos as well as in the words of Rush Limbaugh. There might be no wider political spectrum than that.

We here at IPWatchdog see a bit of a different story. It’s particularly galling that Musk has publicly decried patents as having “repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor” and that earning a patent “really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit.” To many, Musk is a brilliant innovator but the story could be just as easily spun that Musk is a corporate tycoon who has built vast personal wealth thanks to government subsidies and has a slight penchant for nepotism, as is evidenced by his ability to build wealth in his cousin’s company.

Elon Musk also has a bizarro acquaintance with the truth, at least when it comes to patents. In his All Our Patent Are Belong To You [sic] blog post, which has served as the seminal moment for the current open-source trend in the auto industry, Musk stated that since his departure from Zip2, a previous business venture, in 1999, that he has “avoided [patents] whenever possible.” That anti-patent sentiment has raised Musk to rockstar status in the eyes of some, but even a cursory review of the facts suggests that Musk does not practice what he preaches. The fact that we can do a profile of patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to SolarCity in this year alone proves that, at least where it comes to patents, Elon Musk’s message is at best a “do as I say not as I do” approach to business. At worst, Musk is not true to his word.


SolarCity’s Issued Patents: Flat Roof Panel Mounting and Home Solar Energy Audits 

pivot-fit connectionMany of the U.S. patents held in SolarCity’s patent portfolio protect technologies related to improved methods of systems for mounting photovoltaic cells. An improved mounting system that may cut costs by requiring a less time to install is featured within U.S. Patent No. 8991114, entitled Pivot-Fit Connection Apparatus, System, and Method for Photovoltaic Modules. The patent claims an array of photovoltaic modules interlocked together through the use of an interlock assembly comprised of a plate, an opening passing through the interlock plate and a rotatable coupling passing through the opening which contains a key portion that rotatably locks into a groove in a first photovoltaic module and a tongue portion that is slidably insertable into a groove in a second photovoltaic module. This technique is designed to improve upon conventional press-fit and hook-type connections which are time consuming to install and require a larger number of parts which are costly to manufacture. A mounting for solar panel assemblies which is more resistant to the elements is at the center of U.S. Patent No. 9062897, issued under the title Solar Panel Attachment System. The attachment system for solar equipment disclosed here includes a flashing plate with a raised portion, a support body and a fluid restrictor, through each of which passes an opening for a single central fastener aperture. This innovation improves the effectiveness of flashing devices meant to enable attachment of a solar panel to a roof or building surface while ensuring that the panel container is water-tight. A better mounting system for solar panels which are ramp mountinginstalled on buildings with flat roofs is discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8984819, entitled Ramp Mounting System for a Flat Roof Solar Array. The mounting system for a solar module claimed here includes a mounting beam with lowered opposite ends and a center portion supported at an angle to the ground, a fastener for attaching each of the beam’s ends to the roof of a building, a receptacle encircling the fastener and a portion of the mounting beam’s ends as well as a sealant disposed within the receptacle. This system is designed for the quick installation of solar panels on flat-roofed buildings without creating holes in the roof that water through which water might be able to seep. These three inventions became the property of SolarCity after the company purchased rival Zep Solar in October 2013 for $158 million.

aluminum gridSome of SolarCity’s portfolio focuses on materials which improve the effectiveness of its solar panel arrays while reducing the cost of components. U.S. Patent No. 9012766, titled Aluminum Grid as Backside Conductor on Epitaxial Silicon Thin Film Solar Cells, protects a solar cell with a metallurgical grade silicon (MG-Si) substrate, a lightly doped crystalline silicon (c-Si) epitaxial layer situated above the MG-Si substrate and acting as a base layer for the solar cell, two heavily doped c-Si epitaxial layers sandwiching the lightly doped c-Si layer and a backside electrode grid which is in direct contact with a backside of the MG-Si substrate. This innovation cuts down on the costs of fabricating a solar cell by reducing the amount of aluminum which is applied to the solar cell’s backside.

Getting solar energy to work in harmony with large electrical grids has proven challenging but SolarCity believes it has taken some steps forward thanks to the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 8996191, entitled Techniques for Provisioning Energy Generation and Storage Systems. The patent claims computer-readable storage with program code which is executed to determine information pertaining to components of an energy storage system installed at a consumer site, receiving at a site gateway a component database for the energy storage system, retrieving information for one or more components and using that information to automatically program energy storage system components for operation. This automation technology obviates the need for a technician to manually provision components for an energy storage system using photovoltaic energy, cutting both costs and the risk of human error.

SolarCity has also developed a system for making homeowners aware of the impacts of solar energy use on their home electricity needs, reflected by U.S. Patent No. 9026405, titled Systems and Methods for Home Energy Auditing. The method claimed here involves receiving a plurality of user inputs comprising two-dimensional layouts related to an energy audit of a home, converting user inputs into data appropriate for consumption by an energy simulation engine, generating a three-dimensional model of a home and executing multiple energy simulations of the home including a base scenario and remediation scenarios intended to improve a specific area of home energy efficiency. This improved home energy audit technology is designed to encourage sales of solar panel arrays to homeowners by generating detailed and accurate energy simulations.


Patent Applications of Note: Spanish Tile Mounting Systems and Footholds for Worker Safety

There are 20 patent applications filed with the USPTO and published this year which are the property of SolarCity, according to patent portfolio analysis provided by Innography. If Elon Musk really is trying to avoid patents whenever possible, he’s doing a remarkably poor job of that.

skirtSolar cell mounting and installation innovations are again a major focus of SolarCity’s IP holdings and dominate among the patent applications recently filed with the USPTO in SolarCity’s name. U.S. Patent Application No. 20150200618, which is titled Skirt and Other Devices for Photovoltaic Arrays, would protect an installed photovoltaic array which is comprised of a photovoltaic module, a skirt covering a portion of an opening beneath the photovoltaic module, a spring bracket connecting the skirt to the photovoltaic module and an arm extending from the base portion of the spring bracket that can receive an input force to lock a retaining portion of the arm to both the module and the skirt. This innovation is designed to improve upon conventional skirt options for installing solar cells and their shortcomings in structural support and blocking animals from vital components. The installation of solar panel arrays on homes with Spanish tile or S tiled roofs is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20150155823, which is titled Connecting Components for Photovoltaic Arrays. It claims a leveling foot for mounting a photovoltaic module on a structure which is composed of a base portion, a stud portion extending upward from the base and a spring coupling mounted to the stud and having a key portion with upper and lower jaws, a tongue portion and a grounding clip. The spring coupling of this invention provides improved structural support in response to external forces while enabling the installation of solar panels on uniquely constructed roofs. Solar panels for Spanish tile roofs are also discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150075100, titled flashing systemFlashing System for Mounting Photovoltaic Arrays Onto Tile Roofs. The tile hook and flashing assembly that would be protected includes a lower flashing, an upper flashing and a tile hook extending through an aperture in both flashings. This installation assembly is designed for use with Spanish tiles in such a way that doesn’t enable water to leak through the roof. Another technology intended to reduce the amount of time necessary for solar panel installation is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150180405, entitled Photovoltaic Array Mounting Apparatus, Systems, and Methods. The photovoltaic array that would be protected by this patent application includes supports laid out on a surface in rows and columns, photovoltaic modules positioned on top of the supports, lever clips connecting the modules to the supports in such a way that positions photovoltaic modules at a non-horizontal angle and wind deflectors attached to the supports. This invention is also expected to improve the structural stability of solar panels in response to external forces.

Worker safety during solar panel installation is another area where SolarCity has devoted some R&D dollars, as can be seen through the filing of U.S. Patent Application No. 20150041251, which is titled Foothold System on Sloped Roof. The foothold system claimed here includes two flashing blocks each comprising a hole and a moveable foothold with a hook portion removably inserted into the first flashing block and a lower portion extending down the roof and comprising a step portion. This assembly is designed to be able to support the weight of a human worker while installing solar panel arrays on roofs with a steep slope.

We should probably take a quick break from our survey of SolarCity’s patent applications to address an argument that could be made about these IP holdings. The patent application for the foothold system, along with a few other technologies mentioned here, were originally filed by Zep Solar; shortly we’ll feature another patent application originally filed by Silevo, another solar panel manufacturer purchased last year by SolarCity. However, at least in the case of the foothold system innovation, SolarCity has been pursuing the development of the IP it has acquired from those companies. SolarCity has filed several amendments to the ‘251 patent application over time, most recently this June in response to a non-final rejection issued in May. Now, if patents really are just a “lottery ticket to a lawsuit,” wouldn’t Musk make sure that any IP acquired from other companies simply withers and dies? That’s further proof of Musk’s hypocrisy on patents.

Returning to technologies, a system designed for better energy utility management is outlined within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150153394, which is titled Peak Shaving Using Energy Shortage. This patent application would protect a method for controlling an energy storage device to reduce peak power demand at a site by monitoring instantaneous power usage imported from or exported to an electrical grid at a site, calculating a historical power usage value with a target peak value and a buffer value and comparing those two values and adjusting the target peak value as necessary. This innovative system uses algorithms which are better capable of reducing peak power demand in a building.

high efficiencyFinally, further improvements in the amount of energy that can be generated by a solar cell panel is described within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150090314, filed under the title High Efficiency Solar Panel. The solar panel disclosed here contains a plurality of solar cells arranged into a plurality of subsets so that cells are electrically coupled in a series; the subsets of cells are electrically coupled in parallel and the number of cells in each subset is large enough so that the output voltage of this panel is substantially the same of the output of a conventional solar panel. This innovation enables superior performance in solar cell energy generation while having an output voltage which is compatible with conventional solar cells.


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Join the Discussion

36 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for LS]
    August 18, 2015 09:06 am

    Hypocrite or not, anyone realizes, Musk would never act in a way that could harm Tesla by any means in any way. Which is completely plausible. After all, it is business. And with doing business, strategics come along. I am pretty sure giving away his patent information, is part of a strategic. I can hardly imagine, he is truly ‘against patents’. The fact that this statement is missing regarding SpaceyX and Solarcity (I am quite sure also at Solarcity they will highly value his opinion, CEO or not) is proving that. To me, after reading the posts, the discussion seems to be more about liking Musk yes or not from an ethical point of view in general.

    Whether someone is hypocrite, or not, I guess depends as well on the view and expectations of people. Only when you consider Musk’s act of purely an act of doing good/ a sole altruistic act, you might end up being disappointed: he is after all in (big) business. In this regard, I agree with one of the comments above, that if he would be truly altruistic, he would give his information freely without filing for patents at all (regarding patent law, that statement fits. No one can file for a patent for information that is freely ‘out there’. In that case Musk would not need to fear any one coming after him).

    I don’t like Musk, I don’t dislike him. If his business contributes to more global sustainability, that is great. Admitting, with an IP background, I don’t know too much about economics, but I could imagine that more competition market wise will be beneficial for Tesla as well. With giving the patent information – which will enter the market any way after the patent expires – other innovators can develop specific technologies further and further, which will lead to more start-up companies in electric cars, and electric cars becoming cheaper and cheaper. More people will be able to buy such a car, which will increase Tesla’s market as well. I guess with Tesla he, being a good executor as well, kind of has a first market advantage, and I am pretty sure he knows what to do with that.

    I am quite interested in the meaning of the word ‘acting in good faith’ in this case. Maybe we know after the first lawsuit is filed.

  • [Avatar for EG]
    August 12, 2015 10:09 am

    To Those Who Think Chairman of the Board Doesn’t Weld Significant Power:

    From one who worked as a patent attorney in a large corporation (headquartered in Cincinnati which should tell you which one I’m referring to) for over 19 years, Gene is correct, you’re either clueless or promoting some hidden agenda. Unlike other Board members who may be mere “figureheads,” the Chairman welds significant power and control over the company’s activities, and is often the CEO of the company as well (certainly true of the company I noted that is headquartered in Cincinnati). To put it bluntly, the Chairman is always sitting on the “hot seat.” If the shareholders/investors get upset, if something goes wrong at the company, etc., the Chairman will hear about it in spades and will have to address any furor or crisis generated, or face the real prospect of being unseated from the Board. And the Chairmen that sat on that company headquartered in Cincinnati were quite knowledgeable about technology and innovation, some more than others such a John Pepper who I was fortunate enough to sit next to one time, and who was gracious enough to engage in revealing conversation about how much he understood about technology and innovation. (He also sent me a very kind personal letter wishing me well when I left that company, something I will keep and treasure always.)

  • [Avatar for David Stein]
    David Stein
    August 12, 2015 10:03 am

    I have worked for a healthcare client in the past that filed for patents on treatments, technology, etc., with a pretty aggressive approach. The goal was not to prevent others from using the innovations but to make sure that everyone used them consistently, so that more data regarding efficacy could be gathered and studied. Licenses were freely granted as long as others used the innovations in a manner consistent with the original organization and the other licensees so the largest possible dataset was available to analyze.

    Yes, that’s how lots of companies operate. Organizations that engage in technology transfer routinely grant free licenses to use their patented technology for research purposes – and often provide samples at no cost – with the specific goal of assisting the development of data and knowledge.

    This model includes private, for-profit institutions. During my service as patent counsel for an academic hospital, we cut dozens of licenses with Medtronic, Novartis, Pfizer, Merck, GSK, AstraZeneca, etc.

    However, their intentions weren’t purely altruistic. First, these companies benefited from free research data involving their products, and the publicity of having their products attached to published research. And second, many of these companies granted a no-fee license… in exchange for the conveyance of patent rights to inventions arising from this research. (It was a constant struggle to keep the bounds of these free-license clauses in check – but difficult to wield any kind of leverage when many researchers really wanted their samples, and didn’t understand or agree with the concept of IP…)

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    August 12, 2015 09:43 am

    The goal was not to prevent others from using the innovations but to make sure that everyone used them consistently, so that more data regarding efficacy could be gathered and studied. Licenses were freely granted as long as others used the innovations in a manner consistent with the original organization and the other licensees so the largest possible dataset was available to analyze.
    Interesting — something I’ve never heard of before. However, it is HIGHLY fact dependent. Efficacy is rarely important outside of the life sciences.

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    August 12, 2015 09:40 am

    He doesn’t like patents, he thinks they’re an unnecessary burden in the modern world. … It’s not hypocrisy to say you don’t like something but do it anyway, its pragmatic. I don’t like cleaning, but i appreciate the need to do it.
    Is it a “unnecessary burden” or is something one “need[s] to do”? He isn’t a shrinking violet — if he thinks its an unnecessary burden, then let him lead the way and show how patents are unnecessary.

    If you never intend to assert the patents, then getting them is a waste of money.

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    August 12, 2015 09:35 am

    But you do run the very real description (and that description aptly fitting) when you do disrespect the patent system and then turn around and use that patent system. No one is saying that you cannot do this – but you cannot do that and NOT be a hypocrite.
    Well put.

    And we all miss the most impotent part…. Musk is only Chairman of the board at SCTY…. nothing more, noting less.
    What is that? He’s the head of the carpenters? But serious, as chairman of the board, he holds an incredible amount of authority. In many companies, the chairman of the board and CEO are one and the same.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 12, 2015 09:23 am

    Zach (and everyone else defending Elon Musk)-

    Please explain why Musk lies when he says he is compelled to obtain patents or others will be able to patent the innovations his companies discover. That is simply false.

    I don’t seriously expect an answer. I’ve raised this now numerous times and all the Musk fan boys simply ignore the reality that Musk is a liar when it comes to patents. How convenient… and predictable.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 12, 2015 09:20 am


    Are you really that clueless? You say: “Musk is only Chairman of the board at SCTY…” As if that means he is powerless. What your comment proves is that you know nothing about how corporations operate.

    In the future you really should refrain from commenting on a topic when you know nothing about what you are saying. As a general rule it is better to keep your ignorance to yourself than to put it on display for everyone to see.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 12, 2015 09:18 am


    Why does Elon Musk do what he says is stupid and unnecessary? Like the others you ignore the reality that Elon Musk lies when it comes to patents. He says that he must go ahead and regrettably seek patents so that others won’t be able to patent the innovations of his companies, but that is a lie. Not sure why you and everyone else is ignoring the very real truth that if you publish the information about your innovation that will prevent everyone from obtaining a patent on that particular innovation. So Musk is not compelled to seek patents. If he really believed open source was the answer he could simply publish information about all of his innovation. Musk doesn’t seek to publish because he understands why patents are valuable. That makes him a hypocrite, pure and simple.

  • [Avatar for Alan Stewart]
    Alan Stewart
    August 12, 2015 09:08 am

    Just as a counterpoint, I have worked for a healthcare client in the past that filed for patents on treatments, technology, etc., with a pretty aggressive approach. The goal was not to prevent others from using the innovations but to make sure that everyone used them consistently, so that more data regarding efficacy could be gathered and studied. Licenses were freely granted as long as others used the innovations in a manner consistent with the original organization and the other licensees so the largest possible dataset was available to analyze.

    Just an example of acquisition of patents to ensure harmonization and not exclusion. Let’s not look solely at whether a company or person acquires IP protection, but how they actually use these rights before heating the tar, gathering the feathers and shining up the pitchforks.

  • [Avatar for Thomas]
    August 12, 2015 08:06 am

    This article takes Elon out of context, and shreds him based on that misunderstanding.

    He doesn’t like patents, he thinks they’re an unnecessary burden in the modern world. That’s true.

    However, with the archaic legal system in place surrounding them, the cheapest and safest route is just to file them.

    It’s not hypocrisy to say you don’t like something but do it anyway, its pragmatic. I don’t like cleaning, but i appreciate the need to do it.

    Musk’s attitude is more of “this is stupid, but i do it anyway”, not at all “do as i say not as i do” as the article suggests.

    It doesn’t take much to reach this conclusion. I now ponder the impartiality of the author…

  • [Avatar for nat scientist]
    nat scientist
    August 12, 2015 04:25 am

    It takes more than rationality to win in the court of public opinion, like the force of personality is not lightly to be reckoned with. Tangling with Musk, Trump or the Red Queen as you have seen, is an exercise you won’t wish to continue. Today we live in a TVocracy as the recent peace treaty of Roger Ailes and the Donald negotiated. . Face it, the eyeballs have it and candy and popcorn in the free lunch have replaced where once intelligent debate was expected if not delivered. Agenda has replaced science and the survivors are doing something else but pounding sand into margarine brains. Vive la difference.

  • [Avatar for Mike]
    August 12, 2015 12:44 am

    And we all miss the most impotent part…. Musk is only Chairman of the board at SCTY…. nothing more, noting less.

    he is not responsible for anything to do with technical developments at that company. What they do with their stuff is not his fault…

    What seems to be on display here, is the size of the rock, this writer has slithered out from underneath.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    August 12, 2015 12:24 am

    I have never seen (here) so many people try so hard to NOT see a plain and obvious point.

    It clearly is not that Mr. Musk uses patents (or even how he uses them – defensively or otherwise) in one instance and eschews them in another.

    It is the fact of how he eschewed them and the denigration that he heaped upon the very concept in so doing. That denigration was universal and not limited to just the set he gamed to the public for other reasons.

    No one is saying that you have to say the rules are good to play by them.

    But you do run the very real description (and that description aptly fitting) when you do disrespect the patent system and then turn around and use that patent system. No one is saying that you cannot do this – but you cannot do that and NOT be a hypocrite.

    That’s merely understanding the definition of the word.

    Plain and simple: his behavior does not conform to his words.

    As to “defensive” there are far easier and cheaper ways of playing that game. Easiest of all is to merely publish and make prior art the advance, which inoculates you and the rest of the world.

  • [Avatar for TheMogget]
    August 11, 2015 10:09 pm

    Lets just replace patents with taxes. I do not like taxes. I publicly decry taxes in hopes that my voice will change things. Yet when the government comes around I still pay my taxes. Does this make me a hypocrite?

    Just because they play by the rules, you say that they must agree that the rules are good. A company can properly file its patents to protect itself from lawsuits, refuse to sue those who tread on its own patents, and decry patents and still be morally consistent.

    Now if Solarcity was out gobbling up patents and suing everyone in sight, you might have a story.

  • [Avatar for Zach]
    August 11, 2015 08:46 pm


    “Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.” – Samuel Johnson

    It would be news if he had said “We will never get patents!” and then they did. But, as you state it “Musk says patents are unnecessary”. Sometimes we do things that are not necessary, whatever the reasons.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 11, 2015 08:44 pm

    Mr. V –

    Was an overview of SolarCity’s patent portfolio necessary? Really? You do realize that IPWatchdog.com is primarily a patent blog, correct? Are you seriously saying that it was inappropriate on a patent blog to substantively write about patents? Frankly, your comment is rather laughable.

    Sure, there are other reasons than enforcement to obtain a patent, but that doesn’t change the reality that Elon Musk is a hypocrite, and quite frankly a liar. Musk has said repeatedly that he doesn’t like patents, but he and his companies continue to seek them with great vigor. Further, Musk has directly lied to the public when he says that he has to get patents to prevent others from obtaining patents. He is either the most misinformed individual, which is hard to imagine, or he is telling a lie. The way you stop others from getting patents is to publish all the information on your innovations. If he didn’t want patents he could do that and that would prevent everyone from obtaining a patent on the disclosure. That is what it means now that the US is a first to file system.

    So please, spare me the righteous indignation. The bottom line here is that you miss the mark. You say that the article should be more substantive but at the same time criticize Steve for analyzing the SolarCity patent portfolio. Talk about schizophrenic commentary.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 11, 2015 08:38 pm


    You can believe whatever you want. It won’t change the fact that Elon Musk is a hypocrite. So there is absolutely no way that any erroneous, head-in-the-sand comments by Elon Musk fan boys could possibly debunk this article, which is 100% correct.

    Thanks for reading though!


  • [Avatar for Timmy]
    August 11, 2015 07:19 pm

    I think the sum and balance of the comments here have effectively ‘debunked’ this entire piece, let alone its headline.

  • [Avatar for Mr. V]
    Mr. V
    August 11, 2015 07:02 pm

    I will preface my criticism by stating that I am not a big Elon Musk fan.

    Out of the 2300 hundred words written, ~500 were used to actually illuminate Musk’s mercurial attitude towards patent rights while the remaining 1800 words conveyed an excessively arduous overview of SolarCity’s patent portfolio; was that really necessary? At best you successfully pointed out that Musk’s practices are but a microcosm of the bipolar tactics being implemented by Google and other Mega Corps who openly disparage patent rights under the guise of the “Troll problem” while aggressively farming the expansion of their own patent portfolios behind the scenes. As repugnant as such practices may seem, these are actually good business tactics in an environment that has become increasingly hostile towards patents and those who possess them. And as some of the other commentators have already pointed out, a patents has a much broader application (in a business context) than just enforcement.

    Bottom line: You really missed your mark here Steve. Less file wrapper, more substance.

  • [Avatar for David Stein]
    David Stein
    August 11, 2015 06:14 pm

    It’s amazing that in the last 10 years, the public perception of “(x) received a patent on (y)” has gone from a mark of distinction to a character flaw.

    The PR machinery around the patent reform movement is definitely misguided, misinformed, and/or disingenuous… but it is indisputably powerful and effective.

  • [Avatar for Paul]
    August 11, 2015 04:51 pm

    As Johnny, Craig and akopac pointed out above, many companies file patents mostly as a form of defense, not offense. This does not make Elon a hypocrite, he is just protecting his bottomline. I think he is saying he wishes he didn’t have to, but unfortunately in this business climate he has no choice…

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 11, 2015 04:11 pm


    Sorry you didn’t seem to understand the article, but clearly the article is not silly. It is yet another data point proving Musk’s long line of hypocrisy when it comes to patents. Perhaps you should re-read the article.

    If patents are so unnecessary then shareholders in Musk’s companies should sue the company because Musk is obviously misusing shareholder funds to pursue something unnecessary. Of course, shareholders won’t do that since patents are valuable and Musk’s statements to the contrary are just mindless blather intended to mislead those like yourself who are blind fan boys.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 11, 2015 04:08 pm


    We do have our facts straight. Fact… Musk says patents are unnecessary. Fact… companies Musk is involved with (including Tesla) continue to seek patents. Fact… Musk has said he has to get patents so others won’t patent technology he develops… Fact… to prevent others from obtaining patents all you have to do is publish information about the invention, you do not need to seek a patent to prevent others from being able to get a patent.

    You really need to read up on first to file laws. Your blind support of Musk is unbecoming, particularly when you suggest that the truth is a lie.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 11, 2015 04:06 pm


    I do know what patents are for, but it seems you are at least a little clueless. You seem to think there should be an independent creation defense. Thankfully that isn’t the law and never will be. If I innovate and patent and you are infringing my patent you then should either license my technology or you should be sued. It really is that simple.

    Why it is difficult for you and other fan boys to realize that Elon Musk is a hypocrite is curious. Musk says one thing and the companies he is involved with do another.

    Finally, your comment suggests you are completely unfamiliar with the role of Chairman. To say or even suggest that a Chairman has no power to direct a corporation is as ridiculous as Musk saying one thing and doing another.


  • [Avatar for Josh]
    August 11, 2015 03:56 pm

    This article is just silly.

    Tesla has patents. Tesla files patents. Tesla chooses not to sue other auto manufacturer’s for using those patents as long as they follow Tesla’s guidelines.

  • [Avatar for David Stein]
    David Stein
    August 11, 2015 03:11 pm

    More like… ‘patents are great when I have them, and patents are evil when you have them.’ We get the same message out of Google. On one hand, they’ve been very aggressive buying patents and expanding their own in-house patenting. Yet on the other hand, they have been publicly decrying patents.

    A huge part of our problems today is this emergent corporate culture, where the only patents that anyone respects are their own.

    Let’s call this “Not Patented Here” Syndrome.

    Two other examples come to mind:

    1) Around 2006, when Research In Motion was sued for patent infringement by non-practicing entity NTP. The alarm bells over fears about a complete shutdown of the BlackBerry, and outrage over RIM’s $612 million settlement with NTP, were a primary driver of the “Patent Reform” movement.

    And yet, lost in all of this noise is the fact that NTP had offered to license its patents to RIM – if I recall correctly, for something like $500,000 – and RIM had just blown them off. It’s amazing that RIM was able to play the “victim” card and garner huge public sympathy after this terrible decision.

    2) Easily the most clear-cut recent example of intentional infringement is Apple v. Samsung: Apple obtained, through discovery, a 132-page Samsung design document specifically identifying the iPhone features to be copied into the Galaxy. Blatant and reprehensible.

    And yet, this news article arrived last month: Silicon Valley’s Biggest Companies Take Samsung’s Side in Apple Patent Fight

    How can any company possibly justify Samsung’s actions in this incident?

  • [Avatar for James]
    August 11, 2015 02:42 pm

    This seems like a case of using IP differently for different strategies.

    Tesla needs to grow the EV market to be successful in the long run, so making Tesla patents public makes sense. Pursuing lawsuits against established automakers would be a serious distraction and counterproductive to its interests.

    Solar City doesn’t need to do that, as there is already a large market for solar panels. What’s more, solar panels are for the most part highly commoditized, so patents give Solar City an opportunity to differentiate its products and services.

    The alleged [sic] was actually a reference to a popular Internet meme (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_your_base_are_belong_to_us). Elon has a geeky sense of humor, not something lawyers are known for, but I’m sure many of your readers get the joke.

    Does this all make him a hypocrite? My take is that he’s doing the smart thing to grow his companies and maximize the synergies between them.

  • [Avatar for akopac]
    August 11, 2015 02:23 pm

    Both Craig and Johnny are spot on.

  • [Avatar for Craig]
    August 11, 2015 01:23 pm

    First of all, Tesla patents are open not Solar City patents.Second, he said if another car company uses their Tesla patented technologies to develop green vehicles they won’t go after them, and they have not filed suit against any companies yet as far as I know. However they still want to and have to file patents so another car company or a patent troll company couldn’t block them by filing for the same patent and charging them for royalties or blocking their developments.
    It’s fine not to like the guy, but at least get your facts straight!!!

  • [Avatar for Johnny]
    August 11, 2015 01:15 pm

    Curious, Gene, you do know what patents are for, right? Imagine this: If I invented something but didn’t patent, and you figured out how I did it or figured out how yourself and patented it. You could sue me for using your technology. At least I would have to show up in court and go through a lengthy process to prove that I did not use your patent and have in fact invented before you. Not only that since I didn’t patent and you did, other people couldn’t use it because you would sue them.

    So the question is not whether SolarCity and Google patented their stuff or bought more patents, but how many lawsuits have they brought up against other companies using their technology?

    Also, Elon is SolarCity’s chairman. He’s not the CEO. He spends about 3 hours a month there. Yes, he has powers but not like he can or should dictate how SolarCity should operate.

  • [Avatar for Qiloff]
    August 11, 2015 11:40 am

    Filling a patent is just a method to describe how the system works and who it is designed, it is a whole different concept of profiting on your patent. “… lottery to a lawsuit…” is the gist. The patents also protect consumers from inferior knockoffs.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 11, 2015 11:12 am

    Jim M-

    Whether you choose to admit it or not is completely irrelevant. Elon Musk is a hypocrite. He says patents are not necessary yet the companies he is in involved with, including Tesla, continue to file for and obtain patents. It is a clear case of hypocrisy.


  • [Avatar for Bob]
    August 11, 2015 11:09 am

    Many of these were acquired through M&A. That’s an important note that was left out.

  • [Avatar for Jim M]
    Jim M
    August 11, 2015 10:38 am

    It is not clear just by reading the line in his blog post that he means that he avoids patents. Elon Musk is not enforcing patents on the Tesla technology only. The blog post was for Tesla and not Solar City or SpaceX. If you read the 10K report for Tesla in 2014, you can read this section “As part of our business, we seek to protect our intellectual property rights in various ways, including through trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, including know-how, patents, patent applications, employee and third party nondisclosure agreements, intellectual property licenses and other contractual rights. Additionally, consistent with our mission to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport, we announced a patent policy in which we irrevocably pledged that we will not initiate a lawsuit against any party for infringing our patents through activity relating to electric vehicles or related equipment for so long as such party is acting in good faith. We made this pledge in order to encourage the advancement of a common, rapidly-evolving platform for electric vehicles, thereby benefiting ourselves, other companies making electric vehicles, and the world. ” Solar City does not have this statement. So maybe he feels that solar panels are worth protecting patents and not the auto patents. That does not make him a hypocrite.

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    August 11, 2015 07:55 am

    Elon Musk’s message is at best a “do as I say not as I do” approach to business
    More like … “patents are great when I have them, and patents are evil when you have them.”

    We get the same message out of Google. On one hand, they’ve been very aggressive buying patents and expanding their own in-house patenting. Yet on the other hand, they have been publicly decrying patents.

    Unfortunately, that is the world we live in where one’s words and actions need not be consistent.