At a time when most high-tech companies are hoarding patents and suing each other, creating a complex web of cold war-style mutually-assured destruction, Tesla is going against the crowd (once again) and open sourcing all of its patents, making its inventions available for anyone who wants to use them. No need to say that this is a big deal, and should be quite good for the electric car industry!
In a letter titled "All Our Patent Are Belong To You" published on Tesla's site, CEO Elon Musk writes that "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."
This means that the company will not sue anyone who wants to use their technology (as long as they act "in good faith", though it's not quite clear what a bad faith use of a patent would be).
Part of the reason behind this reversal, says Elon Musk, is that at first Tesla was worried that if they didn't protect their technology, big car manufacturers would copy it and then use their massive scale advantage in manufacturing, sales, marketing, etc, to crush them. But it turns out that this is not what happened:
The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.
At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.
Tesla sees its competition not as other electric cars, but as all the millions of gasoline cars that they're trying to replace. They feel they can't possibly do that by themselves, so might as well give a hand to their allies by sharing technology. Makes sense!