Where Are SpaceX’s Patents? Its Trade Secrets Strategy Is Fraught With Peril

While the SpaceX homepage bombards visitors with flight tests, rocket launches, and returning astronaut crews, SpaceX’s patent assets don’t reflect these spacecraft advancements. Instead, its patents and applications all concern satellites. Recent SpaceX patent assets cover antennas, satellite constellations, metal honeycomb material, but not rocket designs or spacecraft control systems. The lack of patents related to spacecraft, a considerably large amount of SpaceX’s technology, begs the question, why? 

In 2012, Elon Musk said “We essentially have no patents in SpaceX,” explaining that he did not want China to use SpaceX published patents “as a recipe book”. His statement holds up in 2021 as SpaceX has yet to publish a patent related to their rocket technology, opting to keep trade secrets.

Keeping trade secrets comes with risks as they can potentially be leaked, or stolen. Additionally, trade secret protection does not protect against independent discovery or reverse engineering. However, SpaceX’s decision to keep their technology as trade secrets seems to be working as the secrecy may be giving it an advantage over US competitors such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Blue Origin has been collecting patent assets related to rockets including rocket landing systems and methods for re-entering the earth. While SpaceX can learn from Blue Origin, Blue Origin is left in the dark when it comes to SpaceX’s technology. This may be a contributing factor to SpaceX’s success, including beating out Blue Origin for a NASA contract concerning the first lunar Human Landing System

Follow SpaceX’s patent strategy with the  Elon Musk “Inc” Patent Forecast® .