If your brand was based on safety and you invented a major safety improvement, you may be tempted to keep it for yourself. But that’s not what Volvo did.
The modern-day seatbelt/shoulder strap was created for Volvo in 1959, and they immediately released the patent free-of-charge to other manufacturers to use. Volvo put safety ahead of profit and felt the invention was “so significant” that it needed to be shared. They were right, as this one safety enhancement has been credited for saving over a million lives.
Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin worked to make improvements to the lap strap, and to do so in a way that would be easy to use yet effective. His invention has been credited as “the most successful contribution to safety in the history of motoring” and earned him a place in the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Today, we take seat belts for granted and probably never stop to think of the engineering that went into creating them or to appreciate the impact that Volvo had by freely sharing its invention. But today’s organizations would be well served to follow Volvo’s lessons in sharing. Sometimes you reap the most from what you give away.