Can open source help electric cars gain widespread acceptance and market share? Tesla CEO Elon Musk is betting on it.
In a blog post last Thursday, Musk announced that all of Tesla’s patents had been taken down from the wall, “in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”
Musk promised to share the company’s entire patent portfolio, and not initiate patent lawsuits, as long as competitors use Tesla’s technology in “good faith.”
Musk is hoping that by opening up the electric car market, more carmakers will produce electric vehicles, and the technology will gain wider mainstream acceptance. Musk wrote:
Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.
In an article titled Silicon Valley Embraces Open Source as a Moneymaker, Thomas Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “The Tesla CEO didn’t decide to give away his company’s technology because he is a nice guy. Instead, Musk realized that electric cars won’t gain mass acceptance if he is the only one making them.”
Lee also quoted Daniel Nazer of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which, not surprisingly, welcomed the announcement):
Some people see the decision as a radical move. But when you think about it, Musk is saying that he’d rather control 20 percent of a large electric car market instead of 90 percent of a small market.
As the Associated Press pointed out, other companies have shown that technology giveaways can pay off:
Even though it spent millions designing Android, Google made the software available to all comers at no charge. Google was more interested in expanding the market for mobile devices and ensuring its search engine and other digital services supported by advertising would be prominently featured on them.
The strategy has worked out well for Google so far. Android is now on more than 1bn devices, surpassing Apple’s iOS as the world’s most widely used mobile operating system.
Those of us in the WordPress community already know that the freedom of open source attracts the best minds and spurs innovation. Indeed, it’s hard (impossible?) to see how WordPress could have become the world’s most popular CMS, comprising 22% of the web, without being open source.
Electric cars still only making up less than 1% US sales. The way I see it, the only way is up for Tesla—and electric cars in general—as a result of this move.
Ernest Hemingway said: “As a writer you should not judge. You should understand.” Kirby Prickett is passionate about writing, reading, and understanding. She is currently a writer at WPEngine. You can connect with Kirby on Twitter, or Google+.