By Richard Waters
SpaceX is in a race for its life with the Chinese. The US venture says it has $3bn in orders under its belt, making it one of the early leaders in the commercial space industry. But founder Elon Musk is under no illusions about the existential risk to his business: the Chinese path to success in the commercial space industry, he says, runs over his company’s dead body.
What should a company, or an entire industry, that finds itself in Chinese cross-hairs do? One response at SpaceX, Mr Musk says, has been to avoid seeking patent protection for the company’s most important technology.
This may sound counter-intuitive. Isn’t this just the moment when tech companies should be laying legal claim to their secret sauce? Not at all. To file for patents, says Mr Musk, would be to hand his Chinese rivals “a recipe book”.
The most important stuff stays under lock and key. SpaceX only applies for patents on “things you could observe anyway”, Mr Musk says. It is a paranoia that is evident throughout Silicon Valley.