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'Patents Are For The Weak': Elon Musk Dismisses Intellectual Property Protections

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO made the remark while showing Jay Leno around SpaceX's Starbase location in Boca Chica, Texas.

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While showing Jay Leno some rockets, entrepreneur and world's richest man Elon Musk dismissed the idea of protecting intellectual property.

CARINA JOHANSEN / Contributor / Getty Images
Elon Musk at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 (ONS) conference.

"I don't care about patents… Patents are for the weak," Musk said, according to CNBC Make It.

Musk appeared on Jay Leno's Garage, a CNBC show, and took the "Tonight Show" host around SpaceX's Starbase in South Texas, one of the company's main operating sites.

On the show, Musk told Leno about the stainless steel on the outside of one of the company's rockets and called it probably "the most counterintuitive thing."

"Is that something you've patented?" Leno asked.

"No. we don't really patent things," he answered. "Patents are generally used as a blocking technique," Musk said.

"They don't actually help advance things, they just stop others from following you, and most patents are BS," he added.

But Keegan Caldwell, the founder of Caldwell Intellectual Property Law, which helps entrepreneurs monetize patents, told Entrepreneur that is not good advice for the average company.

"Every startup company should have some IP strategy," whether it's a decision not to enforce IP, or to have a trademark, patent, or trademarks, he said.

"It is paramount," he added.

Caldwell cited the statistic that 84% of the asset value of companies in the S&P 500 in 2018 was "intangible." That includes intellectual property, goodwill, algorithms, and other things you cannot physically hold, according to Bloomberg.

Tesla announced in 2014 that it would not pursue patent infringement lawsuits against people who used technology from its patents "in good faith."

Critics have said that phrase is vague and could limit the scope of the promise.

Caldwell is one of those critics, as far as Tesla's promise goes. He claimed the pledge only applies to a certain portion of the company's patent portfolio.

"It's not a guarantee they won't come after you," he said.

According to an analysis from the outlet Nikkei, Tesla obtained over 580 patents from 2003 to March 2021, far outpacing competitors.

Related: 4 Intellectual Property Mistakes Startups Make and How to Avoid Them

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