Open up to open-source

Elon Musk endorses healthy, principled collaboration

Open up to open-source
Musk exhorting innovators and entrepreneurs around the world to make use of Tesla’s intellectual property is, undoubtedly, good news on the climate front.

Tesla founder-CEO Elon Musk reiterated the company’s commitment to the open source philosophy and climate change action by tweeting a link to a 2014 blog post where he writes that there will be no patent barrier to any of Tesla-developed technologies for bona fide users; Musk claims to have done this in the interest of faster propagation of electronic vehicles that will bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Musk exhorting innovators and entrepreneurs around the world to make use of Tesla’s intellectual property is, undoubtedly, good news on the climate front. Some Musk-critics believe there is more to it than just climate-action championing, but whatever the motive, business captains could perhaps take a cue on meeting the changing expectations of leadership from Musk.

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Musk, in his 2014 blog-post titled All Our Patent Are Belong to You, writes, “Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology”. This may not be palatable in a business ecosystem where companies build patent walls around the smallest germ of an innovation/invention to protect its monetary value. To be sure, bona fide use of ‘open source’ or patent-free technology in a world where R&D-parasites are all too willing to leverage low-cost labour to run the innovators they copy from out of business is a pipe dream. But, with the right legal checks, enforced with strict vetting and water-tight terms of use, open source/patent-free technology is what the world needs more of, especially when the technology can be leveraged to deliver a common global good like curbing climate change. There are many tech-industry leaders who espouse a pro-open-source position. Tim Berners Lee, the ‘creator’ of the World Wide Web, has already kicked off a venture called Project Solid, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that aims to create a “decentralised internet” that gives individuals, rather than companies, greater control. Indeed, Microsoft pivoting towards open-source—an epochal change for the company whose chief had once termed open-source operating system Linux “a malignant cancer”—shows that even big firms are seeing value in healthy, principled collaborating. The sentiment behind this shift is perhaps best captured by Musk: “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”.

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