Tesla opens up their secrets

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Elon Musk and crew at Tesla Motors made some big waves last week. In case you missed this recent news roundup, it was announced that Tesla is effectively relinquishing their patent portfolio—particularly around charging stations.

Considering the waves Tesla has already made in the automotive industry, what with their forgoing of all things dealer and the obvious gas for battery switch, this may not come as a surprise. That being said considering the industry they play in it's certainly a fundamental shift in the automotive. I couldn't imagine GM or Ford doing the same.

With that in mind it should come as no surprise that Tesla has garned their share of rabid supporters and detractors alike. And thanks to the comments section of news sites (like ours!) we get to hear unfiltered responses from both fans and haters. The most common statement in the negative is that this is not an "altruistic" move. The argument is centered around the fact that many believe Tesla is trying to corner the charging station market such that their technology becomes the standard, thus guaranteeing that Tesla has a leg up in the electric car market.

When I started reading these arguments about a lack of altruism and the fact that this is actually shady it reminded me very much of the rumblings I heard when it came to light a Microsoft employee was the single largest contributor to the Linux kernel for the 3.0 release. It was a weird moment for many open source zealots. The company that at one point called Linux a cancer was, less than a decade later, contributing large amounts of code to the heart of Linux. Many befuddled readers and pundits started to cry out that Microsoft couldn't care less about open source. Microsoft was simply improving how well HyperV, Linux and Windows played together which is a boon to Microsoft.

That's definitely true. It is more than likely that Microsoft contributed code to the Linux kernel primarily because it benefitted them. But hasn't that been one of the fundamental arguments as to why open source is better? If it's not working for you, fix it. If you work out in the open, others can also improve it which further benefits you. What's good for the goose is good for the gander so to speak.

So I would argue that yes, Tesla is probably not just doing this simply because Tesla just wants to change the world in a pure and altruistic way. They are a business and to them it is a very wise move to push their technology further. If this means sharing your work with the world to achieve that goal, well that's the path you take. Is this wrong? In other words, would it have been better if Tesla had kept their patents guarded and litigated anytime someone copied them?

Personally I would love to see more companies realize this benefit of opening up your secrets. Sharing with the world is a great thing and, when leveraged properly, you can share and be selfish at the same time to the benefit of all involved.

So what do you think? Is Tesla simply using this as a business move? Is there a problem with money and leadership status being the motivating factors behind transparency? Let us know in the comments section.

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Travis Kepley is a Senior Instructor at Red Hat where he helps employees, partners and customers understand how Open Source Software can create a better IT and business infrastructure. Travis started at Red Hat in January of 2008 as a Technical Support Engineer before becoming a Solutions Architect prior to moving to his current role.


The optimist in me thinks that this is both an altruistic move and a business move. I think at some level, Elon Musk does want to change the world for the better. But he also runs a business and wants to push his company and its technology forward.

There's no reason why both motivations can't exist side by side. It should be interesting (in all interpretations of the word) to see how this plays out.

its easy to see why they did this if you get other company to make chargers and put them in place it takes a big problem out of your roll out as you cant build enough chargers round the world for their cars , if other build them then you get your cars out to areas where chargers are more easily makes sound businesses seance to me

I don't object if it encourages the use of the technology as long as it doesn't stifle development in the field. If Tesla's technology becomes the standard at the expense of development and acceptance of better alternatives then that would be a bad thing. However, keeping things proprietary can also often lead to an inferior alternative technology becoming the norm.

Who remembers the BetaMax, Video 2000, Video Home System (VHS) format wars? Their have been other similar competitions for market share where what was best for the consumer wasn't always the primary consideration.

Even the supply of electricity and the format of television transmissions have had their turbulent histories.

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