Is Tesla really going open source?
As you may already know Tesla – the famous electric automobiles producer – recently announced in a press release (directly from the CEO Elon Musk) how – in an attempt to speed up global innovation around Electric vehicles and, in general , sustainable mobility – they will open up access to their patents pool to other players that want to use it.
This is for sure one big news, probably the biggest ever in the history of modern mobility and transportation industry. At least in the last few decades. Even if this move appears hard to understand from the typical point of view of competitive companies striving to conquer market shares this makes perfect sense if you look at the mission of Tesla: “accelerate the advent of sustainable mobility”.
By the way, still the overall move looks a bit foggy as Tesla is not choosing a structured and clear Open Source approach: the license is unclear, there’s no real context to look into the patents pool, no reference design is available (so far). In this way the process that you can envision is pretty much mono-directional with information and knowledge going one-way from Tesla to the world.
Also, this move is not targeted to communities, emerging players and innovative startups and designers, but is deliberately targeted to other industrial players: in a way this is more a direct slap in the face of automotive incumbents than anything else. I think he’s sure that none of them will ever take advantage of this because of brand image or simply because of cultural resistances that may really impede traditional companies to understand the inherent value in it. But that is also exactly the point of not being clear on licensing, access, contributions and derivative works: what happens if you let me use your patents and I make an improvement? Who’s the owner of the rights? Should it be released in the open? This is still totally unclear.
Is this a marketing stunt?
I don’t think so. This can be a genuine effort from one of the visionaries of the silicon valley, one of the most advanced companies on earth, taking finally into account that – by having a value proposition targeted at a customer segment that is pretty small, mostly made by wealthy people most of them living in the US. You can’t really change the world for the better in a short enough amount of time (do you remember we have only less than 6000 days? – look at this).
As you may also know, Tesla is developing a pretty cool new technology for batteries and it’s probably sure that having other big automotive brands producing cars based on their technology, their batteries will be able to target a bigger market and – at the end – achieve a bigger transformation effect on automotive.
The Market Potential
Musk is also pointing out that there’s a huge potential market for electric and, in general, sustainable mobility: the existing players are not targeting that market; they have negligible initiatives within this space and therefore the road to a – growing – mobility industry that can be sustainable in the future is still really long, dangerous and incomplete.
But if Tesla really wants to scale up its contribution, it must work towards the real adoption of the technological solutions that it is making available, it must switch from a product approach to a platform approach and – in a way that is similar to what we are doing – needs to engage with the community, understand how these technologies can be used and are going to be used and make efforts to ensure that every player in the market will have the same access, an access that is clear in terms of rights, obligations and implications.
Also, an open source (patents) car will work in the future only if it’s accompanied by an open and distributed manufacturing process, that is able to include multiple stakeholders and be based on a more participative value chain, also embedding the principles of Cradle to Cradle production, eliminating waste and obsolescence.
I’m totally sure that Elon Musk will not stop here, and will make Tesla join the pool of companies that, like OSVehicle, Wikispeed, Local Motors and more are really trying to build things in the open, being loyal to open source definitions and to communities involvement. This would potentially generate a real impact and would make it possible to use Tesla innovations together with distributed chains and new manufacturing approaches, paving the way to a mobility for the future.
Finally Tesla is also confirming that protective approaches are no longer possible today, that it’s no more a matter of competitive advantages based on rents, but it’s time to build companies based on longer-term missions, able to provide customers with experiences and society with solutions.