Elon Musk and the Liberation of Information
“If something is important enough, you should try it, even though the probable outcome is failure,” Elon Musk once said in an interview on CBS’s 60 minutes. No great endeavor is ever taken under the guise of certified success, but every great feat is always taken under the principle of magnanimity; so has this same sentiment sprung from the greatest minds in history, allowing us to realize monumental scientific discoveries and even the birth of new countries.
On June 13th, 2014 Elon Musk wrote an open letter to the public (titled: All Our Patent Are Belong To You – a throwback to an old video game) declaring that all of his patents would be open and available to use for those in good faith. Housing information in tiny little jail cells is no longer a concern for Tesla or their engineers, instead, they are “joining the spirit of the open source movement and the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”
But this predilection for sharing wasn’t always the case; in the beginning of his career as tech-giant, Musk fought hard to secure patents for his work, fearing that there would always be those out there ready to steal and corrupt his vision. After all, from his brain erupted CitySearch, PayPal, Zip2, SpaceX, the hyperloop, and of course Tesla. Now, Musk admits, patents do little more but “stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations, and enrich those in the legal profession.” It was time to give the power of information back to those that deserved it: the people who invented it, and the people who needed it.
This sort of sentiment is still rather rare, especially in the motor vehicle industry. Consider the fact that today’s Ford F-150 has more patents on it than any car in history. Put that next to the crippling fact that back in 2008 the big three car manufacturers each received a government bail-out, and Tesla has repaid their government loan back nine years early (with interest). However, Tesla hasn’t escaped completely unscathed. After model failures of the early roadster, and 3 failed launches under his Space X program, Musk called 2008, “the worst year of my life.”
But of course as we know, Tesla prevailed, created their latest Model S type, and has exceeded expectations on the grandest scale. It could be the first successful car start-up in 90 years – there is an approximate three month waiting list to get your hands on the Tesla Model S. So why would a company with so much success, free up the one thing making them most profitable?
It seems that most businesses have lost sight of the reason they came to exist in the first place, to fill the void of demand with a product worth buying. Greed has overtaken most corporations, and the profit margin has become deadly. Think of GM, embroiled in a bitter battle right now over a recall of an ignition part that the engineers were aware of yet did nothing to fix; it may have even cost the life of one young woman.
It is amidst this controversy that makes Elon Musk’s decision that much more enlightening; the release of patents for its electric vehicles was done not only as a strategic business move, but on a more global scale a giant effort to combat climate change by carbon emissions. “We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform,” he writes. This contribution to technology draws many comparisons to Steve Jobs, who revolutionized the phone industry, and Henry Ford. However, in many aspects, Musk is way out of their league. Reflect on this, in the history of space exploration only four entities have successfully launched rockets into space and brought them back: The United States, China, Russia, and Elon Musk.