WIPO boss: the Web would have been better if it was patented and its users had to pay license fees

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...


  1. the world would have been better off with him being born 50 years earlier so his views would be in sync with the rest of the planet.

    1. the world would have been better off with him being born 50 years earlier so his views would be in sync with the rest of the planet.

      But…the idea of endless and eternal copyright/trademark/IP is quite modern, at least in its aggressive use of government to police the plebs on behalf of the patricians.  Things get worse every week as we head toward a world run by Weyland-Yutani.  He’d probably be more in sync with the rest of the planet if he were born 50 years later, assuming that the current trend continues.

      1. They’re getting ready now to bypass gov’t altogether! Two examples: the deal the RIAA and MPAA struck with ISPs that require the latter to degrade service to ISP customers the RIAA or MPAA deem to be infringers (no gov’t there, just White House blessing); and Senator Leahy’s “Protect IP” bill, which tells corporate vigilantes they can skip calling the authorities or bringing a lawsuit and just shut offenders down.

  2. So, what? We wait 20 years after IP is invented for UDP/TCP to come to fruition? 20 years after that for higher-level protocols? Or make the entire thing a complicated licensing deal given only to big companies, not the best technology? No thank you.

  3. The irony of what he said is that Intellectual Property is not a very flexible instrument.  If the web had been patented, there would be more copyright trolls than innovation.

    Or maybe he was just lamenting over the fact that since the Web is not patented his organization has one less source of ways to make money over patent regulations and so forth.

  4. Once upon a time there was a protocol known as Gopher. Gopher was gaining popularity when in 1993 the University of Minnesota decided they would start charging licensing fees for implementations of the Gopher server-side software. Gopher usage then.. well… have YOU visited a page in, or even heard of, gopherspace recently?

    But wait, this guy is an IP *expert* so he clearly knows better than everyone else. The historic facts are obviously wrong.

    1. “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.”

      Yeah, that flexible licensing model is to have *license free* technology. No stupid requirements means no stupid requirements. That means NO patents.
      And yes, it HAVE lead to many people making modest contributions, and many substantial ones as well!
      Also, it has made thousands of people rich and are making life easier for pretty much everybody.
      By the way, aren’t research being done today too? Google recently created a patch for the Linux kernel that SERIOUSLY speeds up networking on multicore CPU systems (improving parallellization), which are perfect for web servers. That’s a FREE patch, going straight into the standard kernel, for EVERYBODY’s benefit, right NOW!

      Investments? Check. Contributions? Check. Research? Check. Money being made? Check. Innovation? Check.Flexibility? Check.
      What could patenst improve?

    2. I know someone who is a fan of Gopher: wonder if they know that Gopher’s virtual (there are some Gopher sites out there) was partly self-inflicted. 

  5. wtf?

    Oh, I see, Francis Gurry must be one of those people seeking to perfect the novelity sport of extreme cluelessness. He got first place in this years competition, and honorary mention in the categories dumbass, idiot and retard.

  6. Intellectual flexible instrument is a very example property. So, world, had the wide able web been to be patented for a question, and I think that is in itself, perhaps the amount of science that has investment into or would be gone into able to go basic would be different. If a model you had found very flexible, in which the licensing manner for the innovation of the world wide burden had been shared across the fair and rigid whole in a very reasonable contribution web, with a wonderful modest community enabled for everyone for this innovation, enormous research would in turn have basic intellectual investment further in it. And that is the system flexibility that is sort of built into the user. It is not a property system…

  7. It’s reassuring to see that individuals holding such authority and responsibility remain visionaries commensurate to their station. Truly one of the finer minds of the late 19th Century.

  8. He argues that there would have been more investment in basic science if CERN had sold or licensed the web IP. The fact is, and I’ve heard this from people close to the decisions, that the LHC etc. were funded *because* the web IP was made public. That extra investment happened because the IP was freed.

    Though actually a world in which Tim Berners-Lee gets to decide what web pages get put up and which don’t would at least be one in which Gurry’s nonsense doesn’t get promulgated. 

    1. “The fact is, and I’ve heard this from people close to the decisions, that the LHC etc. were funded *because* the web IP was made public.”

      Not really on topic, but I like the idea that, just as the space program was justified by non-stick frying pans, we can try to justify spending billions on fundamental particle physics research because it gave us the interwebs.

  9. I think he makes a very fair argument. After all, who knows what the world would have been like with a proprietary internet? Perhaps it would have been better. If only someone had made an attempt to create a technology like WWW, only closed. Then we could have seen real competition between the open and closed models, and the proprietary approach could show its advantages.

    Perhaps if Apple or Microsoft had tried to make their own network. Perhaps if there was some private company that tried to take America on-line. Or maybe, we could simply look at component parts of the internet’s infrastructure. If only there were closed-source commercial web servers, as well as Apache. Or commercial Unixes, as well as Linux and the open-source BSDs.

    Alas, without people attempting proprietary models, we have no idea about whether they would be conclusively out-competed by open models.

    (This is, of course, missing the fact that pretty much everything that went into the original WWW design already had prior art, and so couldn’t be patented, and since then, people /have/ tried to patent random web stuff, generally to the detriment of progress).

    1. Dear blurgh – or may I call you urgh? You say, quite reasonably, After all, who knows what the world would have been like with a proprietary internet? Perhaps it would have been better.. Indeed. One imagines it would certainly have been ‘differently owned’.

      With counterfactuals such as those being discussed, would we now even be breathing the same virtual air as the estimable C Doctorow? What can one say about such ‘ifs’? Not a lot. One may write a novel about them. But ultimately, what Gurry says cannot possibly matter.  That’s the real nub of all of this, isn’t it? That what such a top bloke in a top job in this universe says has no usable value. I think that’s just a tad weird.

    2. AOL?

      There WERE alternatives to WWW. Many proprietary, several open. The open ones before WWW sucked, the proprietary ones were obviously not good enough.

      1. And Apple had it’s own, eWorld, to make it complete: everyone liked the Walled Garden back in the day. 

        If memory serves, MSN was launched after the open internet (TCP-based) was getting up steam which made Bill Gates’ “Internet Tidal Wave” memo look reactionary. People were abandoning the walled garden as he was building his: so much for his reputation as a prescient genius. 

      1. Apparently I’m just too darn subtle.

        I’ve had people explain that, why, actually, Microsoft tried MSN, Apple tried eWorld, and a company called ‘AOL’ tried to put Americans on-line outside the internet. Almost as if I were specifically alluding to them, yet somehow completely ignorant of them.

        I’m surprised that no-one’s patiently explained that there are commercial Unices, or that there are companies willing to sell you web server software.

        You might call it trolling. I’d call it plain sarcasm, tinged with a failure to realise how ignorant people are… Either that, or I’ve just successfully been trolled. :)

    3. And AOL developed/used open source themselves (the AOLserver platform is still out there). 

      But, yes, your argument is too subtle. 

      There were then and still are commercial web servers and OS platforms for those who feel more comfortable with that. But thank goodness there are more accessible implementations for the rest of us, as some guy once said. 

    4. Well Microsoft did try out the Microsoft Network (MSN) back in 1995: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MSN#MSN_Classic

      History didn’t exactly show it to be a great competitor. But good point about prior art. Still the closed model didn’t seem to be going anywhere. So it seems too theoretical to call.

    5. No he doesn’t. Someone is free today, to make a WWW competitor. Yet they haven’t been able to beat it. WWW _could_ have been patented with good lawyers. Come on, someone got a patent for the idea of putting HTML on CDROMs .. you’re telling me the WWW couldn’t have been patented?

      There are plenty of examples of unpatented things which when down in usage when a better patented thing came along. The example that comes to mind quickest is pain reliever medication.

    6. Novell tried and died doing just that. there was an ‘internet’ of IPX..  Just as there were commercial x.400 networks for email where you paid per email per kb.  And dont forget gopher.

      There were numerous proprietary networks and services too, remember AOL? QuantiumLink? Compuserve?

      The open and free internet killed them all, and the driving thing behind it was the Open Operating system BSD 4.3

    7. What?!  “A proprietary internet”?  That was already tried- think DECNET, BITNET, and all the other goofy NETs that existed at the time of the ARPANET.  The domination of ARPANET and its TCP/IP protocols took place entirely because of its open nature.  We know what a closed technology like WWW would look like.  It would look like all those old Nets, it would be roadkill along the information superhighway.

      And there are closed-source commercial web servers.  How about IIS or LiteSpeed?

      We already know what it looks like when people attempt proprietary models.  With basic connectivity, you need a commodity.  That’s why TCP/IP won, that’s why Apache wins, that’s why  LiteSpeed has zero traction.

      Don’t get me wrong- I’m writing this on a Mac, one of the most proprietary platforms there is.  Once the infrastructure is in place, now you can differentiate yourself by adding a bit of cachet and make some sales.  But expecting a proprietary network to be as successful as an open one is like creating your own lightbulb socket, and expecting customers to flock to it.  Good luck.

    8. There was The Microsoft Network but it failed to compete and became an Internet provider and an Internet portal which was MSN messenger and Hotmail … now it’s Windows Live. I think AOL started as a proprietary network and became an Internet provider with the rise of the Web.
      In France, there was Minitel, a closed Web-like network, but the Web, again, won against this closed competitor.
      Gopher was another competitor and disappeared when licensing fees where asked for the server software.

    9. Well, let’s see… a large-scale, closed, proprietary platform for delivering most of what we use the web for today, that existed before the web was really popular?


      And when was the last time anyone reading this blog post paid their AOL bill?  I think the open platform won.

  10. Investment wants return. All he’s saying to me that he wants more money and more power in correspondingly fewer hands, like everything else in the system.

    He’s not out of touch, he’s just on the side of the bad guys – and they’re winning.

  11. Non stick frying  pans were a result of nuclear weapon making.  anyway i hate the stuff, i prefer cast iron.

    Whats funny that nobody mentioned is that Patents do expire,  so If his example was true it would have expired by now anyway.

    Unlike copyright®

  12. It all depends on how you frame your argument, Cory.

    In the beginning, the “web” did require licence fees. Does nobody remember the walled gardens of AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe? FidoNet didn’t require licencing fees but there was a high barrier to entry. FidoNet died, while AOL flourished with, get this – investment! AOL fiercely fought against opening their AIM chat network to unlicensed users (they licensed it to business software developers among others) and to this day fight tooth and nail to keep their remaining monthly paying user base.

    AOL didn’t make the best decisions, but Time Warner saw them at one time as an excellent outlet for promoting their media. Does anyone remember the only place you could download the high resolution trailer for “The Matrix” in 1999? Not Apple! No, you had to download it from AOL. Private investment of walled gardens did work, and private investment in AOL is what brought the internet to the masses in the first place. Let us not forget our history.

    1. In the beginning…all those companies you mention, aol prodigy,  were just a front door to the internet, and yeah Does anyone remember the only place you could download the high resolution trailer for “The Matrix” in 1999?

      yeah seen it off usenet.

      AIM was a ripoff of whom?

      there were no Fees, when i’d connect at 2400 to some local bbs.

      well besides the normal telecom fees.

    2. AOL? Prodigy? CompuServe? Those upstart parvenus? C’mon.  Those guys were the feeding frenziers who tried to cash in on the – by then – quite long established thank you very much – internet. Hardly beginners.

    3. But they could STILL not resist the open WWW. The reason it pretty much has died is that all these investments would not be returned. You can’t outspend something that the ENTIRE REST OF THE PLANET is adopting and funding.
      How would AOL ever have been able to establish themselves globally, anyway? Because in the end they would have died anyway without WWW in place because too many would have found it too restrictive/limited.
      But sure, you can say that they made people interested in international computer networks, a bit like iPhone has paved the way for Android, that now is leading in total sales.
      But proprietary solutions can rarely last unless they’re made open enough so that they can be interoperable with pretty much anything – and by that time they’re screwed anyway, because free alternative is bound to appear followed by everybody going for the free thing that has the same capabilities and more flexibility.

    4. Ummmm…no.
      The hand over of the ARPANet to NSF is what brought the internet to the masses in the first place.
      Walled Garden != Internet.

    5. No, private walled gardens did *not* work.  The Internet out competed them.  AOL investment is absolutely *not* what brought the Internet to the masses. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.  Egad!

    6. I love revisionist history.  Private investment in AOL brought you AOL.  AOL only brought the Internet to the masses because it had no other choice.  Had it not provided a gateway to the Internet it would have disappeared which by and large it has.  This was as early as 1997. 

      In 1996 I was hired to help one of the major Credit Card Branders (give you a choice Visa/Mastercard/American Express etc….) to develop a means to connect with every bank in the world.  Prodigy (remember them) and MCI (remember them) were involved.  The project almost died due to the “exorbitant” carrier costs that MCI would require.  The whole system would have been, as you put it, “walled”.  My solution to use WWW/Internet without Prodigy or MCI saved the project by providing a cost effective alternate.

      No corporate entity had a clue or the vision to understand the implications of the Internet at that time.  Sears, shut down its catalog division (Amazon before Amazon), Microsoft when it “got it” pulled the plug on Blackbird (nascent AOL/Prodigy competitor), so leaving corporate America holding the bag on $160 million dollars of development effort, Prodigy wanted me to help set up their Internet effort.

      I used AOL briefly but once Verizon provided an Internet Gateway, they were gone.  AOL provided Internet because it was loosing the masses to local ISP’s.

      None of the above would have happened had the Web protocols been patented.  The licensing costs would have had a chilling effect on adoption and would also prevent the type of evolution and development that the Internet RFC process requires.   Even today the “proprietary extensions” and patented software create enormous problems and have limited and slowed the development of the web, while increasing the costs for (without any general or specific benefit except for giving developers a reason to curse and vent), the services and experience of the end user.

      The real truth today, is that patents on software are one of the reasons that the US economy is stalled.  It is basically impossible to create any complex software system without running afoul of some broadly worded patent, which is basically evident to any professional working in software.  Why would I bother to create something knowing that my effort would result in litigation and/or prohibitive licensing costs?  By the way it is economically and technically not feasible to keep track of all the patents  that you might infringe on.  I’ll leave the innovation to someone working in a country that doesn’t subscribe to US software patent policy and patent wars.  Their efforts will have a reasonable rate of return for them and if they can’t sell the product in the US, so what. The only losers are American business and the American public.

  13. The fact that there were proprietary networks like AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe, and they all have failed or are marginalized AND proprietary network protocols like DECNET and others which were actually more mature and advanced failed to be adopted even by the U.S. government, should be clear historical landmarks that refute the ‘Patents are good’ position.

  14. Before TCP there were a number of competing network systems.  Most of them proprietary.  I remember Banyan Vines and IPX for two.  The reason ethernet IP/TCP won was because it was open.  It had scale, it had competition, it had more than one hardware manufacturer and more than one software writer.  As more people used it, the hardware became cheaper.

    Around the time Tim Berners-Lee was creating the web, there were other competing proprietary client/server systems.  We don’t hear about them any more because the web took over.  The web took over because it was free.  Lots of clients, lots of servers.  Lots of people allowed to innovate, to add, to fix, to use.

    If the web had been patented and people had had to pay, it would not have become popular.  It would not have been used.  It would have faded with all those other proprietary client/server systems.  Simple.  Some other free/open technology would have been used instead.  It’s exactly the opposite of Mr WIPO.

    1. LOL!!! The reason IP won over Banyon and IPX  is because it was the only one of the 3 that was routable…

  15. i smell a rat. I think what he was saying is that if the web was patented, then it would not have taken off, and therefore AOL and its like would have been able to create cable 2.0, or basically cable with a slow (semi-)generic data connection next to the MTVs and such. The IP boys wants proprietary systems for one reason, and one reason only, divide and conqueror…

  16. Makes sense. Just imagine how huge the market would be for digital music if we all listened to it on our rockin’ WMA players.

    Or even better, if every street in the world was a private toll road. The streets compete!

    1. Makes sense. Just imagine how huge the market would be for digital music if we all listened to it on our rockin’ WMA players.

      This actually isn’t a good example. The MP3 format is a patented technology.

  17. One must prove proficiency in order to legally drive a car.   One should also need to obtain a similar license in order to send an email to me.  This would make my life infinitely better.

    And I’m NOT being sarcastic.

    1. I disagree. I prefer openness and accessibility (why else would I use the internet or email?). Spam is a nuisance but a lot of the responsibility for that lies with ISPs and software makers who don’t monitor the products and services they provide and actively engage with security issues. Between various content filters or Bayesian analysis, as well as simple greylisting, spam is not an insurmountable problem. 

      An ISP that can’t figure what host(s) on their network are engaged in spam or DDoS attacks should be shut down. If they can meter your bandwidth or charge for overuse, they can obviously tell something about what you’re using that circuit for. Even if the source is outside your local jurisdiction, I have a hard time believing that an ISP can’t also tell when they are seeing inbound traffic that disrupts their customers’ experience. A little more responsibility at the ISP level would go a long way. Over the past 15-20 years, ISPs have had ample time to work out some shared governance or mutual responsibility but you know they would squeal like stuck pigs if regulations were proposed. 

      And software makers that deliver products that are riddled with open ports and unsecured services should be required to help users secure those systems. To use your car analogy, we should hold software/OS makers to safety standards as we hold carmakers. Some vendors will continue as they have (I think most of the FOSS products keep services turned off by default, as does Apple) but I think we can see one vendor that might take a hit.

    2. One must prove proficiency in order to legally drive a car. One should also need to obtain a similar license in order to send an email to me. This would make my life infinitely better.

      Why such a modest proposal? How about a commenting license as well?

    3. Hey, don’t use that anarchistic tool of e-mail anymore. Use snail mail like Chuck Norris would. Oh wait…

  18. This is not so much ‘ideology’ talking than greed, simple, infantile, greed, poorly rationalized.

  19. This guy is not more or less ideological than any other good catholic defending his belief. Why reasoning when you have the power of your belief that Patents are the solution for everything. Why should we need any evidence, it’s something for the infidel. Don’t forget, God has patented the religion he only licensed it to us humans and see the enormous success.

  20. How do these guys sleep at night? Seems like they’d patent the idea of giving candy to children at Halloween if they could get away with it.  There is more to this world than making a buck at every opportunity. I’d say a open, unencumbered web has done more for the free flow and exchange of information and ideas than any other medium of technology. I’d also wager that they’re be a lot less patents today without that free-flow of information.  Ironic isn’t it?

  21. To be fair, there are real examples of what Gurry is talking about where IP is being used to further basic research — the classic example being things like WARF (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which has generated billions of dollars for research at the University of Wisconsin. While I suspect that Gurry is only bringing up the topic for rhetoric and is more interested in defending corporate interests than foundations like WARF, it’s worth remembering that patents and other forms of IP can be used for noble causes as well as greedy ones.

  22. It’s just opposite day for this guy. He will just says and do the opposite of everything he feels would be right.

  23. Better….For Who? Defiantly WIPO that’s for sure.  Over a like for like time scale, Open and free has proven to be more productive and profitable over closed and licensed. 

    1. I guess you haven’t heard of companies like FT.com pulling their iPhone app in preference of a browser based HTML5 website huh?

  24. Yeah, and if you make tax cuts for the rich you get a trickle-down effect, so the poor become better off too!

    This guy definitely deserves his own chapter in Modern Myths that just don’t Stand Up to Scrutiny

  25. As if the web and its various technologies (servers, browsers, hardware, plugins, development tools) didn’t get enough investment. This bozo obviously doesn’t remember the late 90s when MSFT and NSCP were pumping out new browsers at an obscene rate, with features (i.e. attempts at lock-in) no one uses or remembers. 

    Not to be an ageist but does he look like a representative user of the modern internet? Or is he more like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss who has his email printed out for him? 

    It’s not hard to find someone who will defend a land grab, so long as he stands to benefit from it. Look for people like him to lock up water supplies or the land required for renewable energy in generations to come. 

    1. Not to be an ageist but does he look like a representative user of the modern internet? 

      If you were trying to avoid being an ageist, you failed badly.

      Mr. Gurry is only four years older than I am – and I’m the same age as Tim Berners-Lee and the late Steve Jobs – and I was using the Web when CERN’s list of all the known Web servers in the world could be printed out on a single page.

      What do you imagine a “representative user” looks like?   

      The Web’s diversity is one of its great strengths – there is no “representative user.”

      And besides, what in the world does that have to with anything in this post?  Does someone’s age or appearance somehow bolster or invalidate their arguments?

      Here’s a tip for the future: when you find yourself writing, “Not to be a [something]ist, but…”, just stop right there.

      Because you’re almost certainly  about to be a [something]ist, and the disclaimer – which shows that you know you’re about to be a [something]ist – just makes all that much worse.

      1. Wow, a little humor-challenged, are we? I expect Mr Gurry is probably not too far from my own (physical age) but I think our experiences and viewpoints diverge. 

        Maybe there is no “representative user” of the internet. I should have instead suggested there are those who use and value a thing and those who want to own or control it for gain without valuing it for what it is. And which group is trying to make decisions about it? Hope the spleen dump gave you some relief. 

    2. Or is he more like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss who has his email printed out for him?

      I would have gone with, “MRS. CARMICHAEL!!!!”

  26. This my friends, is hard-core, socialism and state-controlled thinking exposed. I doubt that this guy even remotely thinks his views are odd. Unfortunately, so many other modern-day liberals would likely (and do) agree with him on many other issues for larghe swaths of other parts of our society. 

    The phenomenon that *is* the Internet revolution is a result of setting up just enough framework to allow individuals and corporations alike, the *same* freedom to innovate. The same playing field to win or lose. The “same” opportunity to try is what makes capitalism so powerful. Not a guarantee of the same outcome. Simply the guarantee that everyone can compete on an even playing field. A guarantee that there are no government interventions to pick arbitrary winners and losers — a form of tyranny and coercion and curtailment of individual freedom in and of itself. You see, when people can vote with their wallet (or their feet) to choose winners and losers, the marketplace quickly evolves to provide the most efficient means to supply a demand. No amount of social engineering could ever achieve any measure of similar success — as history routinely shows us, year in and year out. The culture, society, and economy are even more complex than the weather (since at least weather has to follow constraints of physics, unlike fickle human behavior), so to think our Great Political Leaders can somehow control society is a myth. (And, as one measure of control fails to supply the desired outcome, the State exercises more control, opining that they didn’t get enough the last time, so please give us more power over more aspects of society, surely it will work this time — this repeats ad nausea, leading to complete tyranny typically after major societal/economic collapse.)

    In addition, the key words  *just enough framework,* above, are also a critical component. The Internet has just enough controls put in place to allow for an open and free  landscape for global competition (well, except for tyrannical regimes like China, etc.). Society and governments should exercise similar restraint. Set up *just enough* of a framework within which we can safely and securely compete — in jobs, companies, inventions, schools, healthcare. This doesn’t mean abandon common sense and all forms of regulation. For example, my neighbor should not be allowed to burn tires in their backyard. Or the factory down the street should not be able to dump hazardous waste into the ground, polluting our drinking water. However, the government should not be telling me to use mercury-laden compact fluorescent bulbs. They should not be telling my local schools how our children should be indoctrinated.

    Had this douche been in charge of the Internet, think of all the millions of jobs and thousands of companies, and billions of people that would have *not* been able to enjoy what they do now. Think of all the totalitarian and tyrannical states around the world that still would be operating behind the cloak of silence. You see, information control is power. Relinquishing control of the Internet to state-control thinking and a closed marketplace, is not much different than relinquishing control of the education of our kids to state- / union-control with no competition. Our school tax money is confiscated and we have no choice where it goes or how it is used.This sort of lack of control of something as large as the Internet marketplace is what drives liberals and socialists crazy. They detest the lack of being able to exercise coercion through taxation and reap what they dub “fair” and “socially just” rewards through confiscatory means. After all, we “unwashed masses” are too stupid to know what is best for us. We need the intelligentsia and political elites to look out for our collective best interests.

    1. Uhh, who do you think control IP? Corporations, not governments. So yes, had corporations had a patent lock on the web then innovation would be stifled, but that’s not state-controlled thinking. That’s corporate controlled IP protection.

    2. you seem as blinded by ideology as the person you criticize. the internet wouldn’t exist in the first place without direct government involvement. also, way to insult your perceived opponents based on the strawmen you’ve created for them. stay classy.

    3. I pretty much agree with what you said here, except that socialism has absolutely nothing to do with this… please learn what the term means before throwing it about for no reason. Infact, the internet being free and open to use by anyone, is closer to being socialism then wanting to patent it and charge a license fee…

    4. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
      This is not the definition of liberalism or socialism any stretch of the imagination. But it is a very nice straw-man, keep working on it, it might be nice place to see the world from one day, or not..

  27. I’m shocked that a head of a major international trans-governmental body would have such completely absurd, dangerous, anti-factual, and jerk-faced opinions!

    Oh, wait. No I’m not. Pretty much par for the course, in our world that saw the ‘triumph of freedom’ with the fall of the soviets 20 years ago.

  28. We’ve already had that, and he’s welcome to all the Teletext that the patent-protected content-licensed  free market will provide.  

    Perhaps more controversially around here, he’s also welcome to use another system that addressed the needs for intellectual property and attribution in hypertext, which is Xanadu.

  29. Intellectual property is a very flexible instrument. So, for example,
    had the tablet 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 Apple would be different. If you had
    found a very inflexible licensing model, in which the burden for the
    innovation of the tablet 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 Apple R&D. And that
    is the sort of flexibility that is built into the intellectual property
    system. It is not a rigid system…

    There I fixed it for you

  30. What’s disturbing about this is Francis Gurry’s position in WIPO and what this implies about WIPO in general.  WIPO is the center of very distractive international trends.  This seems to imply the destruction is not thoughtless, careless, or random, but appears instead to be malicious or crazy.

    1. Gurry’s position isn’t malicious or crazy – it merely reflects the narrow, short-term interests of IP-holding groups, against the interests of consumers, IP users and open-rights advocates. Unfortunately, such a position is only to be expected from an organisation that is dependent on trademark and patent fees for the vast majority of its funding.  

      Until WIPO’s funding structure is overhauled, its secretariat will almost inevitably continue to take this sort of line. 

      This is not to say that participation in WIPO is a lost cause; developing countries and NGOs have made great strides in arguing their case in the past several years, and a multilateral forum within the UN system has major advantages over bilateral treaty negotiations, for example. No doubt Gurry is also a big step up from his scandal-plagued predecessor in terms of personal integrity; but perhaps in policy terms it’s plus ça change…

      1. OK, I guess that’s right, knowingly making false statements in the interest of powerful business interests could fit into ordinary business-as-usual greed rather than being crazy or malicious.

  31. I remember Gopher very well and was so sad when they started licensing. Remember how fast Prodigy died when they decided they had to keep up with the Jones? They would have outlived AOL as a forum if they had kept true to their inclusiveness. They had one of the best genealogy groups, and created a very hard working group of people who helped and shared. I miss the old fashioned DOS bulletin boards with no bells and whistles  but overflowing with good content. Now it’s just about money everywhere. Ancestry is way overpriced.  I totally believe in and support open source idealogy–patents are ruining creativity. The obsessiveness with competition is like a disease.

    1. I ran into a claim that South Koreans still use BBSs, by way of telnet. Yep, south. Not a typo…

  32. he’s just mad that riff raf like me could contribute to society and have a good job. he just wants it all for himself and his fancy friends. screw them…

  33. Are we just going to sit here and grumble about this guy?

    Cory, you posted it, and someone probably knows more about this guy, let’s get a list of issues for a petition and try to and get rid of the mofo.

  34. It amazes me just how many times seemingly intelligent individuals reach into their our colon and pull out such a pile of bull crap.
    Blah Blah.. take this guys Sony Walkman away his cassette is skipping.

  35. He’s just a mindless ideolog who believes that patents are always a good thing.  He’s never going to listen to reason.  His mind is locked up tighter than Elvis’ pants.

    The thing is, we know for an absolute fact that he is wrong.  There were a very many proprietary networks before the Internet.  And, because they were proprietary, they never went any further than the hardware they were designed to lock into.  A true, global network that *everyone* could access only came into existence *because* the infrastructure was open.  Proprietary networks were tried.  They failed.

  36. What the WIPO guy said should have happened is exactly what did happen. The US had the IP. But the government made the IP available sans licensing because all US taxpayers covered the costs of development. When you have that many beneficiaries, licensing red tape becomes ludicrous.

  37. I was part of the CERN team that worked on the Web from 93-95 and went on to work with Tim at the newly formed MIT W3C.

    First off it is difficult to see what could have been patented on the Web since there were other networked hypertext systems before it. The key innovations of the Web were rather subtle and almost certainly NOT patentable. There had been URL like proposals before, the only difference was the degree of consistency. DECNET had uniform addresses across the whole of DECNET tne years prior.

    The big innovation in the Web was 404 not found which was ironically something that the whole network hypertext world had been trying desperately to avoid. The ‘scruffy’ links of the Web were good enough. But Time didn’t invent them, he just worked out why scruffy was better.

    I remember a day trip we all took off up the lake ot see the Hyper-G system at Gratz. Hyper-G had much better clients than we did at the time. They had video long before it came to the Web and their clients looked like Chrome when Mosaic looked rather drab. We were all rather depressed about it till we found out that they wanted $50K to run a Hyper-G server.

    One of the more irritating myths that has grown up round the Web was that Microsoft ‘stole’ it. They did not, we begged them to look at it, campaigned for them to implement the protocols. The Web did not take off because of the technology alone.

    Had the Web been patented there would have been no NCSA browser and no White House Web server, no IBM browser, no Microsoft IE, no dotCom boom.

    As for lacking for investment, one of the reasons that the dotCom crash happened was that we had spent all your pension funds on Aeron chairs and takeout pizza. The investment problem we faced was too much investment, never too little.

  38. We need to get these people out of office, out of power, and out of the fucking way as quickly as possible.

    I’d also be in favour of scrapping every “trade treaty” we’ve signed since the 80s as well. Go through every law that these tedious corrupt old fucks have passed, and if they were for the benefit of corporations rather than people, get rid of them.

    Then we start prosecutions.

    Think I’m joking? There were 875,000 poverty related deaths in the US alone (let alone the rest of the world), before the crash of 2008. God knows what it is now – though the suicide rate in Greece has doubled since austerity measures were imposed (for the benefit of the bankers). 

    The consequences of the descisions that these people make kill more people than the 20thC tyrants put together. “Following orders” or “Just doing it for money” is not an excuse. 

  39. His argument that the advantage of patents being that the knowledge gets disclosed publicly is hilarious. He backs this up with the example of the violin (trade secrets) versus the saxophone (patented) and how thanks to the patent system we know how a saxophone is made. Yes, it might apply to processes you can keep secret, yes, it might be nice to know how a Stradivarius was made.. but how exactly does this apply to a communications protocol?

    “Uh, yeah, we’re gonna send you some packets. But… <looks away and fidgets>  … we can’t tell you how to decode them.”


    “It’s a trade secret. Management are worried about “those Pirate Party commies” breaking the patent system, so we’re just keeping the protocol a secret.”

    “But… I can’t communicate with your system without knowing the protocol.”

    “Dude, it was hard enough convincing management to let me tell you there WAS a protocol…”

    [some time later]

    “Hey, we went ahead and filed a patent, so you can talk to our system now, just as soon as you pay the license fee.”

    “Aw, shoot, we went with another server, you know, one which we could talk to. For free.”

  40. The guy surely show a LOT of intellectual flexibility to ignore reality.
    Of course his salary depends on his ablity to ignore reality so hi is REALLY motivated.

  41. Book idea:  crusty old politicians, who just can’t comprehend technology or those that understand it, become so terrified of geeks that they intern us all and ship us off to our own colony.

    Better book idea:  we do the same to them.

  42. “It could have been…like cell phone service. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”


    Monopolists invariably over-price their products. As far as I can tell, without competition, always. Then they sit around and wonder why they don’t get widespread acceptance.

  43. The RBOC’s (Ma Bell) had the chance to do what Francis Gurry is talking about.  The telco’s were the first to get patents on hypertext links.   Part of the reason why the internet was created was because of the sheer expense of what the telco’s were charging at the time for access across their networks.  Why pay the telco $5000/month for a leased line when you can use a modem and get almost the same connection to the internet for $20/month over a copper telephone line?  The internet lowered the barrier to entry because of lower costs.  The baby bells high pricing models created the perfect storm that forced the development of the internet into prime time.  If the baby bells decided to lower the costs for access, either the internet would not have been created, or it would be much different than it is now.  It is the reason that these costs, as prohibitive as they are, force others to find ways to innovate at lower costs without paying royalties, tolls or tariffs.   Forced with paying high fees, people will find a cheaper method. Linux exists for this reason.

  44. The open internet killed all the proprietary networks. That’s enough proof right there for getting rid of patents… software and otherwise.

    the original point of patents was to protect the little inventors from the big guys. we need to figure out another way to protect the Davids from the Goliaths.

  45. Is ðere a way to link to (1) a non-patented version of the talk — ðe current link points to an Adobe (Macromedia) Flash video file, which is probably encoded in a patent-encumbered MPEG format and (2) directly to the relevant part, so we do not have to download ðe full 242 MiB before viewing?

  46. The technologies of the Web won precisely because they had very low barriers to use. It allowed the web to be usedin cases with very small margins, creating a community, and thus an audience and community that attracted uses with higher margins.  IT allowed the experimentation and exploration that was needed to transform the web into what it is today.

  47. The point isn’t that sometimes patented technology “works”.  The point is that you are not writing this comment on AOL are you?  We still have proprietary networks.  They’re called intranets and every corporation and institution on the planet uses them.  However, the fact that the protocols and communications standards, specifically TCP/IP and HTTP, are open standards that anyone can implement and use without paying licensing fees,  means all these little private networks can easily be connected to each other, and that a much larger open intERnet could be created that has provided the space for a geometrically expanding mass of free-to-access human knowledge and interaction that has and will continue to change the world for the better, in a way unprecedented in human history.  If we had to pay licensing fees to use tcp/ip and http  it would be a mostly dead space only used by wealthy corporations and institutions, and the internet as we know it would not exist, to the detriment of all of humanity.  This dude Gurry is a moron and a fool.

  48. I’m utterly puzzled by the number of people who took blurgh’s post as something else than satire.

  49. This is dumb.  Yeah at this point you could say patent/licence it, but there wouldn’t be this many users if they did that from the start.  It would’ve stalled the acceptance and growth of the internet. Plus someone eventually would’ve came out with a free alternative and that would’ve been the “new” norm of websites.

  50. Interesting comment on this story here

    No, WIPO Boss Did Not Say The Web Would Have Been Better If Patented… But His Comment Was Still Nonsensical

  51. And if the person who invented the pencil could dictate which books were allowed to be written and sold, books would have been so much better today.

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