Patent lawsuits aimed at big and small operators threaten web freedoms

In the first week of February, Sir Tim Berners-Lee stood in front of a jury in east Texas. His task was daunting: he had to invalidate a set of patents claimed by a company called Eolas and the University of California. If he failed, almost everyone running a website with moving pictures or streaming video would have to pay a stipend to those two for each use.Berners-Lee famously didn’t patent the world wide web when he invented it as a method of tying together data from different locations on the internet. The web – confusing though it might seem – is a layer on top of the basic “internet” connection that comes into your home or office or smartphone. When asked in court why he hadn’t patented his idea Berners-Lee said: “The internet was already around. I was taking hypertext” – what we see now on web pages as blue links – “and it was around [as an idea] for a long time too.” (That’s true: the idea of hypertext to “join” disparate pages was put forward by Ted Nelson in the 1960s.)

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