Last June, the Swiss Press Club held a launch for the Global Innovation Index at which various speakers were invited to talk about innovation. After the head of CERN and the CEO of the Internet Society spoke about how important it was that the Web's underlying technology hadn't been patented, Francis Gurry, the Director General of the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), took the mic to object.
In Gurry's view, the Web would have been better off if it had been locked away in patents, and if every user of the Web had needed to pay a license fee to use it (and though Gurry doesn't say so, this would also have meant that the patent holder would have been able to choose which new Web sites and technologies were allowed, and would have been able to block anything he didn't like, or that he feared would cost him money).
This is a remarkable triumph of ideology over evidence. The argument that there wasn't enough investment in the Web is belied by the fact that a) the Web attracted more investment than any of the network service technologies that preceded it (by orders of magnitude), and; b) that the total investment in the Web is almost incalculably large. The only possible basis for believing that the Web really would have benefited from patents is a blind adherence to the ideology that holds that patents are always good, no matter what.
Here's the video; Gurry's talk starts at 0:49:50. The image above shows Gurry announcing his theory, while the reps from CERN and ISOC look on. Caption as you see fit.
Intellectual property is a very flexible instrument. So, for example, had the world wide web been able to be patented, and I think that is a question in itself, perhaps the amount of investment that has gone into or would be able to go into basic science would be different. If you had found a very flexible licensing model, in which the burden for the innovation of the world wide web had been shared across the whole user community in a very fair and reasonable manner, with a modest contribution for everyone for this wonderful innovation, it would have enabled enormous investment in turn in further basic research. And that is the sort of flexibility that is built into the intellectual property system. It is not a rigid system...
Global Innovation Index 2011 [globalinnovationindex.org]
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.