Tuesday 17 June 2014

Afro Ng'ombe

Green Energy/Electric Car Patents for the Taking, potentially

patent Elon Musk, the CEO of electric car company Tesla announced via the company’s blog that the company will not enforce their patents against “anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”  As a continent that leap-frogs out of outmoded technology and with growing experiments in green energy, Africa could benefit from free-use of such patented technology.

If – that is – African entrepreneurs, inventors, and investors can rely on a blog post from the CEO as a grant of patent rights or at least an enforceable license or otherwise use the patented technology with impunity.

One question is if Tesla Motors’ patents are protected in any African countries.  Many countries on the continent are members of the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty, so theoretically it would not have been difficult for Tesla to apply for international patents.  But, would the company have found it worth the time and cost to apply for patents abroad, particularly in Africa?  Of course, even if they are not, any company wishing to export developed technology to America would need to be concerned about rights to use the patented technology.

A second question is would any courts in Africa uphold the blog post as a legally binding grant of patent rights should someone attempt to enforce the patents.  This is particularly important should Tesla be acquired by a less-benevolent owner sometime in the future.

A relevant side-question, how useful are the patent documents themselves to facilitating development of green technology on the continent?  There’s a lot of conversation in development & IP communities about the failure of technology transfer promises in international treaties that have resulted only in the sharing of patent documents without hands-on skill training.

It’ll be interesting to see if any companies, African, American or otherwise, take advantage of any Tesla Motors patents on the basis of the blog post, or if Tesla needs to make the grant of use a little more formal.

A catalog of patents issued to Tesla Motors is available here.

Afro Ng'ombe

Afro Ng'ombe

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