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Twentieth Anniversary of the World Wide Web

by Alex Blewitt on Aug 08, 2011 |

This weekend was the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web project announcement on the alt.hypertext group. On August 6th, 1991, Tim Berners Lee posted:

The WWW project merges the techniques of information retrieval and hypertext to make an easy but powerful global information system.

… A prototype (very alpha test) simple line mode browser is currently available in source form from node info.cern.ch [currently 128.141.201.74] as /pub/WWW/WWWLineMode_0.9.tar.Z.

Also available is a hypertext editor for the NeXT using the NeXTStep graphical user interface, and a skeleton server daemon.

HTTP/1.0 wasn't formalised until five years later, in May 1996, as RFC 1945, although the basics of HTTP were already in place back in 1991.

It is sobering to think that as patents are valid for 20 years, that had the web been patented and based on this first release date, then it would have only become freely available for use today. If HTTP/1.0 had been patented on its release in May 1995, then we would have to wait until May 2017 before independent servers would be implemented. As NPR podcast mentioned last week:

Patents are supposed to promote innovation. But in the world of software and the Internet, they're having precisely the opposite effect.

Tech companies are spending billions of dollars to buy up patents — not to drive innovation, but to defend themselves from potential lawsuits. There's a legal war on in Silicon Valley, and patents are the weapons.

Considering all the new technology and innovation that has been based on a system which (intentionally) wasn't patented 20 years ago, we can be glad that we are living in an age of technological revolution. But as more and more legal threats against technology patents (particularly software) accrue, it is inhibiting the ability to freely innovate that was the crux of the internet's (and particularly, the www's) success. Twenty years from now, we might be in a very different place and patents are part of the problem, not the solution.

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