There are two major inter-related reasons we are dependent on oil (either foreign or domestic): conventional cars and conventional power plants. Tesla Motors may have found a way to make real progress to get around these two obstacles.
Whatever your opinion of the Green Energy movement (and its many-times liberal enthusiasts), there is no doubt that clean, reliable, sustainable energy would be a good thing. If it’s voluntary (and possible). But one major roadblock in the path toward freedom from oil is, oddly enough, patent law. And Tesla Motors may have found a way around it. Recently, they announced that they are putting all of their electric car patents into the public domain. This is huge. A press release from CEO Elon Musk explains the reasoning behind Tesla Motor’s decision:
When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.
At Tesla, however, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. 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.
How do patents stifle progress? It’s simple really. Let’s say you are a brilliant engineer—either a lone inventor, or an innovator at a small start-up company. And you have just discovered a new piece of technology that could make electric cars more efficient and reliable. So you patent it to protect your intellectual property.
A week later, suits from Big Auto show up at your door. They tell you that Big Auto will buy the rights to your patent for 5 million dollars or $10,000—as the case may be. You are poor. You have a family. You can’t afford to pass up this offer. So you sell the patent. Does Big Auto then use your invention? Of course not. Big Auto shelves your patent, ensuring that no one will make a car that competes with what they already offer. It would cost too much capital investment to change, and as long as nothing comes along to compete with what’s already available, what’s already available will sell just fine.
The solution that Tesla Motors has come to avoids this problem altogether. By voluntarily suspending all ownership of their patents, Tesla ensures that their inventions might actually be used and improved upon. Making this move is bold, brilliant, and counter-intuitive. And it just might work. Especially if innovators and entrepreneurs realize that they can sell their patents to Tesla Motors to protect their inventions and ensure their inventions actually get used to make a better electric car.
But that’s only half of the problem. Electric cars don’t currently do a thing to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels (both foreign and domestic). The vast majority of power plants (the power plants that produce the electricity that powers electric cars) produce electricity by burning fossil fuels. So, even though a Tesla electric car is not producing carbon emissions at the point of use, that doesn’t mean an electric car reduces overall dependence on fossil fuels. It just changes when and where those hydrocarbons are being burned. And because of the nature of thermodynamics and the loss of energy during changes of energy states, the electric car might actually be producing a greater amount of carbon emissions than an efficient conventional engine. Bummer.
So how do we fix that? It’s the same solution, actually. Put Green Energy patents in the public domain. Do you think Big Oil wants a cheaper, more efficient solar panel? No. That would be a disaster for them. So what do they do? They buy up companies and patents that are researching green energy. They even use these buyouts for public relations: “See, we’re researching Green Energy!” How humanitarian of you to make yourselves obsolete. Yeah. I’m not buying it. Just like Big Auto, Big Oil buys up patents to protect their current interests. The only way around this is to make patents voluntarily unbuyable.
But that is a difficult proposition. If you were a poor inventor or a research group, could you resist a huge payday from Big Auto or Big Oil? Sure, it’s for the betterment of humanity and all that, but you’ve got to eat. I’m honestly thankful to Tesla Motors for opening this door. I hope other research groups and inventors follow suit.
Perhaps you don’t think this is a big deal. Let me explain why it is. The Middle East. The Middle East has almost no natural resources. They have very little intellectual capital. They have basically nothing to export (except sand and terrorists, of course). But for oil. Because of oil, we are entrenched right smack dab in the middle of a big cluster-turban of violence and international tension. Why? Let them kill themselves. We don’t need their oil. We don’t want it. If we dedicated our intellectual capital to finding efficient, deregulated, crowd-sourced methods for clean, sustainable energy, we would have no need of the Middle East. What little petroleum we needed (for construction vehicles and the like), would be minimal in comparison to what we currently need, and we could take care of our own demand from our own fields. It would cripple the power of the Islamic oil cabal.
Further, it would be cheaper for you. If solar panels were more efficient and less expensive, you could go completely off-grid for your personal power needs. You could power most everything from the sun God gave all of us. You can’t tell me you like spending four dollars a gallon on gas. Let’s say you like your big truck or muscle car. Great. Can you imagine what the price of gasoline would look like if most everyone’s commuter vehicle was running on sun, wind, and tide provided electricity? You could buy a gallon of gas for a quarter.
This needs to happen. Open-sourcing patents may be the only way that any progress will be made in this most crucial area. Green energy is not a liberal agenda. They’ve hijacked it for their own power. True green energy doesn’t look like more regulations, more government control, and more centralization. True green energy looks a whole lot like freedom from the corrupt lobbying crony capitalism that has been forcing all of us to pay for the price of our own slavery.