Is Elon Musk a Modern Day Rasputin?

https://depositphotos.com/66048885/stock-photo-elon-musk.htmlDuring the last stages of imperial Russia, in the days leading up to the Russian Revolution, a supposedly holy man attained a role as a trusted advisor to the family of Tsar Nicholas II. Many people in the Russian elite at that time believed that Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was a holy man and a healer; many others thought he was a religious charlatan. The subject of an assassination attempt by those who disfavored his political influence, Rasputin turned out to be more legend than substance and his only lasting influence on today’s society is an absurdist caricature of the man in the movie Anastasia, which this writer believes to be the greatest animated musical of the 1990s.

Elon Musk may not have a wisecracking bat voiced by Hank Azaria as his sidekick, yet in many ways he resembles the historical figure who was murdered by Russian nobles in 1916. Musk is seen by many as a visionary who is bringing us to a new future of alternative energy, driverless cars, space travel and underground public transit. Musk could probably offer to sell world peace and still raise hundreds of millions of dollars from shareholders despite missing his own deadlines and breaking promises. How many other CEOs can berate their shareholders in an investor call, continue to miss production goals and then win a vote of confidence from shareholders just a few short months later? Musk, like Rasputin, does not die easy. His success defies explanation, and his stock price is the very definition of irrational exuberance. 

Musk also continues to be exposed by news headlines. Twice Musk has delayed his own deadline to reach the 5,000-per-week production goal he has set for Tesla’s Model 3. He’s broken promises not only to his shareholders but also his workforce, 9 percent of which he recently laid off in an attempt to make Tesla into a profitable company. At the time of this writing, Tesla shares were in the $310 price range despite predictions from major investment bank Goldman Sachs that Tesla may need to raise up to $10 billion in capital over the next two years to remain in operation. In late July, The Wall Street Journal reported that Musk asked some of Tesla’s suppliers to refund payments made by the company going back to 2016 in order for Tesla to reach profitability. This news caused a major surge in Tesla credit-default swaps, which now indicate that the company has a 42 percent chance of missing a debt payment in the next five years. Forget meeting production deadlines, Tesla might not have enough cash to keep its doors open within a few short years. Somehow it just doesn’t matter. It is almost as if the more Musk fails the greater his legend grows, and for reasons that make little sense the higher his stock price soars. 

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In the world of intellectual property, Musk has shown a similar penchant for dishonesty. In a June 2014 blog post on Tesla’s website, Musk claimed that he has avoided patents ever since he left he left Zip2, his first business venture. Just to remind our readers of this fallacy presented by Musk, which remains unchanged on the Tesla blog:

“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.”

Recent news reports indicate that Tesla has bought itself yet another lottery ticket to a lawsuit, and has once again not avoided patents as its CEO proclaims is his alleged preference.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently published a patent application filed by Tesla. U.S. Patent Application No. 20180162199, titled Infotainment System With Air-Vent Control, covers an air vent assembly for a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), the assembly comprising a cover member having an inlet allowing a flow of air to enter the cover member and a vent extending from the inlet towards a fore side of the cover member, the vent having a first and second vent portions having different sets of flow guiding vanes which are independently movable with respect to each other with the use of an actuating mechanism operatively coupled to the vanes. The claimed invention provides an air vent assembly through an infotainment system with improved control which reduces the amount of dashboard space taken up by the assembly.

No, Musk isn’t named as an inventor on the patent, but if he truly is the CEO of Tesla, then he would have a say over the company’s research and development activities. If he really thought that patents are just lottery tickets to a lawsuit, he wouldn’t spend money filing patent applications; he would simply have the research published online for the whole world to see. Instead, this is yet another example of Musk’s hypocrisy on patents which continues to grow at both Tesla and its subsidiary SolarCity.

And for those Musk fans who will inevitably, and incorrectly, say that Tesla seeks patents so competitors cannot obtain patents and block the company, that is simply not how the patent system works. Yes, that is what Musk has said, but that is only further proof of his say-anything approach to business. In a first to file patent system, like the United States, all one has to do is publish or otherwise disclose an innovation in order to prevent anyone from obtaining a patent ever. If the disclosure occurs prior to the filing of a patent application the competitor simply could not obtain a patent, period. So, the only reason to obtain a patent is to obtain exclusive, proprietary rights.

Of course, facts will not matter to Musk fans. They will convince themselves that Musk avoids patents despite the fact that Tesla clearly obtains patents whenever possible.

The idea that Musk could be a CEO who is out of touch with the day-to-day operations of his company is not inconceivable given his company’s inability to meet his own production deadlines. But the truth of Elon Musk’s absolute unwillingness to tell the truth about his views on intellectual property is laid bare by U.S. Patent No. 8579635, titled Funnel Shaped Charge Inlet and listing Musk as lead inventor. The patent was issued in November 2013, nearly 15 years after Musk left Zip2 and less than a year before Musk would proclaim to the world that he has avoided patents since leaving Zip2. It can’t be any more clear: Musk’s position on patent is dishonest. 

And yet, despite broken promise after broken promise, which continue to be ignored by Wall Street, this Alfred E. Neuman of Silicon Valley continues to be the beneficiary of government contracts. Recently, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Musk’s Boring Company had been selected to build an underground transit system connecting O’Hare International Airport to downtown Chicago. Musk even offered to shoulder 100 percent of the financial burden, which is interesting given his ability to build billions in personal net worth through government subsidy.

“Ah, but he’s a visionary.” “He’s a miracle worker.” “He can see the future.” “His words don’t meet his actions, but he’s a powerful man who must be respected.” Do these statements describe the early 20th century figure of Rasputin, or the current day South African-born Silicon Valley magnate? Or does the difference not even matter? Only time will tell.

 

Image Source: Deposit Photos.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a writer located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He has become a regular contributor to IPWatchdog.com, writing about technology, innovation and is the primary author of the Companies We Follow series. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients.

Steve Brachmann

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and founder of IPWatchdog.com. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman Malek. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 23 Comments comments.

  1. Jamie July 29, 2018 9:46 am

    The constant Musk bashing detracts from your generally great blog. What is the point of this article?

    Tesla never said they would quit getting patents. They said they would never initiate an infringement lawsuit. Patents serve an important defensive use for Tesla: if another car manufacturer sues Tesla, Tesla would have some ammunition to fight back. Companies know this and are thus discouraged from attacking.

    The government offered subsidies for alternative fuel vehicles. Tesla created qualifying vehicles (as did many other manufacturers). Why is this bad? These weren’t compliance vehicles or designed merely to game the system.

    Patents themselves are a form of government subsidy. Congress could eliminate them at any time, just like the EV credit.

  2. Gene Quinn July 29, 2018 1:57 pm

    “Tesla never said they would quit getting patents. They said they would never initiate an infringement lawsuit.”

    That is not what Musk has said. Musk has said that he avoids patents, which is not true.

    “Patents serve an important defensive use for Tesla…”

    Correct, which is why it is improper for Musk to say they are or should be avoided. He continues to collect them for valid business reasons.

    “Patents themselves are a form of government subsidy.”

    That is a rather bizarre way of looking at patents if you ask me. And if Congress were to get rid of patents that would turn the U.S. economy into a third world economy. It would be stupid. There are no modern economies without a patent system. There is a reason for that.

  3. B July 29, 2018 3:06 pm

    “That is not what Musk has said. Musk has said that he avoids patents, which is not true.”
    I love Musk, but his support for the brainless dolts at the EFF is unforgivable. Did anyone read the EFF amicus for Berkheimer? Idiotic

  4. Tim Pale July 29, 2018 6:02 pm

    The idea of comparing Elon with Rasputin shows how absurd is becoming the media.

  5. angry dude July 30, 2018 10:39 am

    Jamie @1

    “Patents themselves are a form of government subsidy”

    Huh ???

    I did original R&D for several years, spent a lot of resources and time, came up with original invention solving real technical problem, filed for US patent protection, spent tons of time and money to prosecute it through issue, patent gets published for everyone to see and reproduce and I get nothing out of it in the end and still have to pay maintenance fees to USPTO to keep it alive

    Who subsidized whom ?

    Me think I personally subsidized USPTO, lavish lifestyle of my patent attorney and a few mega billion dollar tech companies who stole my invention

    subsidy indeed

  6. angry dude July 30, 2018 10:56 am

    No, Musk is no Rasputin

    History has it that Rasputin’s private part was preserved after his murder and displayed in some museums and worshiped by females in some kind of religious cult…

    Way to go for Musk…

    All the money in the world can’t buy you that

  7. B July 30, 2018 11:17 am

    @angry dude

    “Me think I personally subsidized USPTO, lavish lifestyle of my patent attorney and a few mega billion dollar tech companies who stole my invention.”

    Well, maybe you should send business my way in the future. 😉

  8. Yuri_G July 30, 2018 11:59 am

    “That is not what Musk has said. Musk has said that he avoids patents, which is not true.”

    That is exactly what he said from the same blog you based this entire article on.

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

  9. Eric Berend July 30, 2018 4:21 pm

    @ 6., ‘B’:

    It would seem that ‘angry dude’, as with many “woke” inventors, is not sending any patent-related business in anyone’s direction, anytime soon.

    Now, I wonder why that could be.

    (second line above = sarcasm, for the slow-witted)

  10. Chris Westland July 30, 2018 7:12 pm

    Seriously? The blog shows a lack or historical knowledge about Rasputin (you might read his daughter’s book) who was just a peasant mystic who lucked out with the Royal Family. Musk can be a bit weird and edgy, but he really has kicked the can forward in many areas — payments, space, electric cars, urban transit, solar, … etc. You must have thought it was a good idea to get on the current “bash Musk” bandwagon. There may indeed be valid criticisms of his businesses and of Musk … but this post misses them by a mile

  11. B July 31, 2018 4:59 pm

    @Eric ‘It would seem that ‘angry dude’, as with many “woke” inventors, is not sending any patent-related business in anyone’s direction, anytime soon.’

    Yep, and some of my clients lost fortunes b/c the anti-patent PTAB and CAFC can’t be bothered with little things like evidence. Six years since Mayo was decided, and only until Berkheimer en banc did the CAFC finally acknowledge that the Mayo holding was based upon objective evidence on the record, and I am 100% sure that most CAFC judges were completely unaware of this as of April 1, 2018.

  12. Gene Quinn August 1, 2018 11:28 am

    Chris @10-

    We know very well who Rasputin was as a historical figure. That is why the comparison was made to Musk. Musk is routinely wrong, yet governments give him enormous grants in the billions. He owns a car company valued at more than Ford, but the car company cannot actually produce cars, and shareholders seem to only run up the stock price with every broken promise from Musk. While Musk may not have started as peasant, his ability to control the devotion of his believers is eerily similar to Rasputin. So too is the fact that many people not caught up by his mystical charm see him for what he is — a businessman that can’t actually deliver.

  13. Gene Quinn August 1, 2018 11:32 am

    Yuri_G @ 8-

    First, you ignore the part of what Musk has said about not pursuing patents. What we said is that he is a hypocrite because he says he does not pursue patents and then does pursue patents. So we are, of course, correct.

    Second, let’s discuss your point about Tesla not pursuing those who use their technology in good faith. What is the definition of good faith? Who is the decision maker? How is one to know? And why does Tesla need patents if they aren’t going to enforce them anyway?

    Musk only “open sourced” Tesla’s patents in this nebulous, non-informing way when Toyota decided to use their own technology instead of Tesla technology and Musk was going to have an idle factory. Shrewd business decision, but not altruistic like his followers believe. See

    http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2014/07/08/tesla-on-patents-open-source-altruism-or-shrewd-business/id=50331/

  14. B August 1, 2018 11:46 am

    @ Gene

    “So too is the fact that many people not caught up by his mystical charm see him for what he is — a businessman that can’t actually deliver.”

    I fully admit to being somewhat in that camp. Putting a car in space just appeals to my sense of the absurd and grandiose.

    That said, while Musk’s achievements post PayPal are quite spotty, they are not non-existent. Musk’s problems are related to pushing bleeding edge technologies, rather than a lack of management or business acumen. I see Musk as the modern-day Howard Hughes without all the mental problems.

    I really don’t totally disagree with your metaphor, Gene. There is a bit of Rasputin’s abilities in Musk. However, Musk does not totally lack accomplishment.

  15. Gene Quinn August 1, 2018 12:14 pm

    B-

    You say: “Musk does not totally lack accomplishment.”

    That is a fair statement.

    For the life of me, I don’t understand how a car company that can’t produce automobiles is worth what Tesla is worth. And I don’t understand why he has been able to get government subsidies and contracts with his extremely spotty track record. After a certain time his broken promises should catch up to him, but they never do. What he says about patents is just wrong, but his followers believe that Tesla must seek patents in order to prevent the competition from obtaining patents. Not the only CEO to engage in misinformation for his own purposes, but there is no doubt a cult following around Musk that doesn’t exist with respect to most other CEOs.

  16. SVI August 1, 2018 1:44 pm

    I agree with Gene, but this isn’t a patent story so much as a reverse-Robin Hood story. The reason Tesla and Musk are so successful is that he robbed taxpayers of billions of dollars to create toys for the rich, and investors lined up because their dollars were augmented with “free” federal handouts.

    Even with this fortune, Musk hasn’t transitioned from a software guy into a hardware guy. Musk thinks like a software developer, same as Google’s founders, and the attempts to become successful in hardware go sideways. That’s why Tesla had to augment its ultra-state-of-the-art production line with makeshift tent structures just to pump out more Model 3s (which will never be profitable at Musk’s target of $35k each).

    The real lesson here is that the government should not be in the venture capital business (e.g., Solyndra) and as important as sustainable energy may be, it’s critical that the greentech gravy train that has been going off a cliff for a decade be ended so as not to further bilk taxpayers.

    And yes, Musk is no friend to patent protections, inventors or engineers.

  17. Poesito August 2, 2018 2:40 am

    B @ 4: “I see Musk as the modern-day Howard Hughes without all the mental problems.”

    I’ve known people who knew Howard Hughes and I’m sure they would want someone to take exception to such a comparison. While always eccentric, idiosyncratic, intellectually parapatetic, etc., the “mental problems” to which you refer were the result of medical complications caused by a near-fatal plane crash,

    Hughes’ companies we’re privately owned and run by professional managers (because of the disability and other interests). Those companies competed aggressively for gov’t contracts. No subsidies or bailouts. Hughes’ one great boondoggle was the Hercules flying boat. He got an enormous amount of grief from some members of Congress for it (probably another reason he had no regular involvement in doing business with the gov’t).

    There must be a better comparison in the long historical list of corporate hustlers.

  18. angry dude August 3, 2018 9:57 pm

    B @ 14

    “Musk’s achievements post PayPal ”

    Dude, r u kidding us ?

    PayPal is no technological achievement, just being in the right place at the right time in a business sense
    No technological achievement at all. Period.
    Same with Ebay and most other dotcoms

  19. B August 3, 2018 11:16 pm

    @ Angry Dude

    “PayPal is no technological achievement, just being in the right place at the right time in a business sense”

    I never said this was a technological achievement. It was a business sensation however. Look, some ppl like Musk; some do not. There are things I love about him: things that irritate me. Me, I’d love to hang with the guy, but that’s just me. I don’t demand others feel the same and I respect your different opinion.

  20. LazyCubicleMonkey August 4, 2018 1:22 am

    Question about this phrase:

    In a first to file patent system, like the United States, all one has to do is publish or otherwise disclose an innovation in order to prevent anyone from obtaining a patent ever.

    My understanding is that patent examiners cannot possibly (successfully) search for prior art in the world of all documents ever published. It seems that others are realizing that as well: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/06/inventor-says-google-is-patenting-work-he-put-in-the-public-domain/ . What happens if the patent does get granted? Will showing the prior art automatically invalidate the already granted patent? Or will it still cost a shiny penny to defend against an infringement suit based on that patent?

    If so, wouldn’t it still make sense to file the patent?

  21. Gene Quinn August 5, 2018 12:10 pm

    LazyCubicleMonkey @20-

    If you (or they) are REALLY concerned with what you raise and not just being a troll, Tesla or anyone else could file a patent applications and then once they publish abandon abandon the application. That way it is easily findable prior art for the examiners who you say can’t find everything, but Tesla wouldn’t have to spend the many tens of thousands of dollars per patent to prosecute the application, pay government fees (including the issue fee) and maintain the patent rights Musk says are to be avoided.

    Alternatively, for an even cheaper fee Tesla could monitor published patent applications and file third-party pre-issuance submissions of prior art to patent examiners. This became an option at the insistence of tech companies as part of the America Invents Act just for the reasons you say… so that examiners who can’t possibly find everything can be assisted by those who know where the prior art is. Sadly, hardly no one uses third party pre-issuance submissions despite how cheap they are to file.

    Nice try, but for those who know the laws and rules the only possible conclusion is Musk is a hypocrite. And your trolling here, with obviously misleading and clearly erroneous statements is getting very old.

  22. LazyCubicleMonkey August 5, 2018 1:58 pm

    As someone who’s not a patent attorney, I didn’t realize those 2 things were an option. Mainly that a submitted but abandoned patent application isn’t just discarded & the third party pre-issuance issuance submissions (does this mean you need to hire someone (full time?) to monitor patent application submissions?

    Was Musk aware of these options?

    I learned something 😉

  23. Gene Quinn August 6, 2018 9:37 am

    Lazy-

    “Was Musk aware of these options?”

    If he is as brilliant as everyone says he is, I’d suspect he would know about the topics he pontificates about. Certainly his attorneys well know what he is saying about patents is incorrect.

    “does this mean you need to hire someone (full time?)”

    There are services that monitor trademark filings for corporations just for the purpose of making challenges to trademark applications that get too close. So while it may sound onerous, it really is not. Much of it can be automated. It isn’t as if someone has to read each patent application. I doubt Musk would be at all interested in toilet related inventions, for example.

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