Tesla Motors, located at 3500 Deer Creek in Palo Alto.
Tesla Motors, located at 3500 Deer Creek in Palo Alto. ()

SAN FRANCISCO — Tesla Motors is embracing an open-source philosophy when it comes to patents, founder and CEO Elon Musk announced in a company blog post Thursday.

“Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology,” Musk wrote.

The move, Musk added, comes out of a recognition that the potential for innovation within the electric car industry outweighed any corporate risk. “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,” he said.

Of course, “in good faith” is subject to some interpretation. To date, Tesla hasn’t launched an offensive patent suit against a fellow automaker anyway. Regardless of its implications, the statement in itself is unprecedented within the auto industry. “I did get some wide-eyed looks from people on the board and management team, but they have all been really supportive,” Musk said on a conference call discussing the announcement.

According to the company’s most recent annual report, as of Dec. 31, 2013, Tesla had 203 issued patents and more than 280 pending patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Tesla has regularly bucked convention when it comes to legal frameworks. The legal department is headed by deputy general counsel Todd Maron, who before he came to the carmaker worked as one of Musk’s divorce attorneys. A year ago, Tesla made its first offensive play, moving for declaratory judgment after getting hit with a demand letter that claimed infringement. It did so without a general counsel.

It currently has two patent infringement cases pending against it, one in the Eastern District of Texas, where it’s represented by Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and the other in Delaware, where it tapped Morris James.

While most tech watchers have applauded Tesla’s open-source-friendly approach, a Kelly Blue Book analyst, Karl Brauer, told Wired that it’s also a savvy business play that may help Tesla eventually play in bigger markets.

“They’re never going to convert the average American into an electric car fan, even with great press and great publicity” alone, Brauer told the magazine.

Contact the reporter at callison@alm.com.