June 14, 2004

Berners-Lee On S/W Patents, Freedom and Innovation [8:30 am]

Pioneer Who Kept the Web Free Honored With a Technology Prize

If Tim Berners-Lee had decided to patent his idea in 1989, the Internet would be a different place.

Instead, the World Wide Web became free to anyone who could make use of it. [...]

[...] Because he and his colleague, Robert Cailliau, a Belgian, insisted on a license-free technology, today a Gateway computer with a Linux operating system and a browser made by Netscape can see the same Web page as any other personal computer, system software or Internet browser.

[...] Software patenting today, Mr. Berners-Lee said, has run amok. [...]

“The problem now is someone can write something out of their own creativity, and a lawyer can look over their shoulder later and say, ‘Actually, I’m sorry, but lines 35 to 42 we own, even though you wrote it,’ ” said Mr. Berners-Lee, who is director of the World Wide Web Consortium based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“What’s at stake here is the whole spirit in which software has been developed to date,” he said. “If you can imagine a computer doing it, then you can write a computer program to do it. That spirit has been behind so many wonderful developments. And when you connect that to the spirit of the Internet, the spirit of openness and sharing, it’s terribly stifling to creativity. It’s stifling to the academic side of doing research and thinking up new ideas, it’s stifling to the new industry and the new enterprises that come out of that.”

See also Microsoft file patent faces exam and EFF Asks Public to Identify Bad Patents in Patent Busting Contest

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