Is Elon Musk the Jonas Salk of our Time?

As you’ve probably heard by now, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors has just done something incomprehensible in today’s world driven by corporate profit margins and stock values.  Musk has released Tesla’s patents for free.

Yes, now any company wishing to make electric cars can simply grab one of Tesla’s patents and get to work.

On Thursday June 12 Musk wrote in a blog post playfully titled “All Our Patents Are Belong To You” that,

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.

You read that right. The CEO of a ground-breaking, highly valued company just offered the company’s technology up for free.  To make the world a better place.

This does not happen in 2014; companies and individuals sue each other for all kinds of intellectual property disputes.  I thought it was fashionable.  (Which reminds me; to the band Spirit: you can’t copyright a chord progression, so stop trying to sue Led Zeppelin over Stairway).

I can’t help but think of Doctor Jonas Salk in comparison to Elon Musk in light of this news.  Salk invented the polio vaccine, which became available in 1957. He never patented the medication, but instead offered it to the world.  As a result, polio was virtually eradicated wherever his vaccine was put to use.  He did not benefit financially at all from his discovery, and he continued to conduct research for cures of other viral diseases such as AIDS until his death in 1995.

Now, Elon Musk has already reaped a healthy profit from Tesla, so he is not exactly Dr. Salk’s humanitarian twin, but it certainly is refreshing that Tesla is offering its groundbreaking technology to the world.  Musk clearly wants to see electric cars become mainstream.  His patent release will allow other manufacturers to produce them, and perhaps make them even more affordable.  Tesla stocks have gone up since the patent release, so perhaps there is positive monetary gain for Tesla in it after all?

Regardless of the company’s motives and Musk’s true humanitarian commitments, it looks like we’ll all be driving Teslas soon, regardless of the brand name stamped on the steering wheel.  Musk might eradicate the gasoline engine like it’s a disease needing a cure.

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