What Elon Musk’s Opening of Tesla Patents Means for Open Source


Earlier this month Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, made waves after announcing that Tesla patents are now open to everyone: “Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

Although patents were designed to encourage inventors by protecting their work, Musk explains that they are now actually curbing innovation: “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.”

This is a drastic departure from the likes of Ford or GM, and it’s leaving many wondering what the future has in store not just for the automotive industry, but the general process of innovation as a whole. Will this move by Musk inspire larger players in the automotive industry to follow suit? Will open source and collaboration become an accepted standard across different types of industries?

Let’s rewind to the initial days of the open source software movement.

While open source may be something new to the automotive industry, software has embraced this form of collaboration for decades. Open source software is now the most prominent example of open source development, but it wasn’t always as widely accepted.

In 2001, Microsoft executive Jim Allchin stated “open source is an intellectual property destroyer. I can’t imagine something that could be worse than this for the software business.” Fast forward to present day where Microsoft is not only integrating but also creating open source in an effort to grow their market share. The former executives that chided open source are mostly gone, and fit with a new CEO, Microsoft now views the open source community with value as opposed to harm.

Why open source?

Open source provides an unparalleled level of collaboration. The time it takes a small team in-house to produce can be cut down dramatically by using thousands of minds within the open source community. Relevance is another driving factor in larger companies adopting open source. With Microsoft providing source code to the community, they’re encouraging the use of their technology.

Likewise with Tesla opening up their patents, it gives them the opportunity to become the go-to resource for electric vehicle innovation. Electric cars currently make up less than 1% of all vehicles. As more people begin contributing to innovation in this space, that percentage will climb and the demand for Tesla batteries will rise alongside it. With a $5 billion “Gigafactory” in the works to churn out batteries, it seems Tesla has more than just altruism in mind by adopting open source.

And that’s ok, we all win here.

How to get involved in open source.

With all of this source code out there at your fingertips, where do you start your journey toward contributing to open-source? Check out our beginner’s guide for starters. Learn all about GitHub (a web-based hosting service for software development projects) in our Technically Speaking Series here.

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