Open Source the E-Cat?

As news of E-Cat technology comes to the attention of more people, a common response from people who believe in its legitimacy, and its potential to change the world, is to ask why Andrea Rossi does not go ahead and release his secret to the world so that people can develop it without any restriction. The argument is that that this would be the fastest way to propagate this technology and bring its benefit to the maximum amount of people possible.

We’ve seen the open source model work very successfully in the software world — think of Linux, Wikipedia, and Mozilla Firefox, for example. These resources are free for anyone to use, and thousands of people volunteer their time and resources to help improve these products without any expectation of monetary reward.

There are also examples of open source projects outside the purely digital environment. To me, two of the most interesting ones involve 3D printing:  Reprap and Makerbot . The designs for each of these printers are freely available online — anyone who wants to  can use them  build a 3D printer for use at home. There are active support communities to help people in the building and development of them. Over time, through cooperative effort new and improved models have been developed.

With successful examples like these and others, it is hardly surprising that people are hoping and suggesting that we try the same kind of approach with a technology as promising as the E-Cat. Andrea Rossi has been asked a number of times about the possibility of open sourcing his invention, but he seems to show no interest in the idea.

A few months ago, Rossi responded to this suggestion in this way:

“As for the development of the technology: the maximum development can be reached with the maximum investments. Nobody could invest significantly in a technology without having exclusive rights on it. When a thing is own by everybody nobody gives value to it. The story of communism has teached this to us. We and our licensee will put all our force to develope this tech.”

And yesterday he echoed this sentiment when he responded to a similar idea expressed by a reader of the JONP saying, “Nobody would invest anything in a non proprietary technology.”

I think there is logic to his thinking. In order for the E-Cat to achieve rapid proliferation, huge amounts of capital will need to be put to work to build, develop, market and service this technology. A company having the capability to invest resources at the scale needed to move this technology forward rapidly would likely not want to proceed if it saw that the intellectual property was available to all its competitors. Rossi’s argument is that exclusivity will be an incentive for licensees to invest heavily.

On the other hand, if the secrets of the E-Cat were in the public domain, it would allow anyone with skills and means to build E-Cats on a cottage industry level. You could have small manufacturers around the world making E-Cats, and if there was a collaborative online community involved, as there is with other open source projects, improvements and new designs could be shared rapidly leading to a flowering of the movement from the bottom up. It’s an interesting prospect to consider.

We have two different philosophies here then — Rossi’s old-style industrialization model vs. the new open source one. Since Rossi holds the secrets, we’re likely to see the former model prevail, at least in the near term.