On March 12, 1989, the same year the Berlin Wall fell, Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN, wrote up and distributed a revolutionary proposal to improve information flows among computers: “a ‘web’ of notes with links between them.” (See diagram below from Berners-Lee’s proposal.) A few years later, CERN declared that the WWW technology developed by Tim Berners-Lee would be free, open, and available to all, without payment of royalties or other legal restrictions. In the words of Berners-Lee:
This decision (to keep the Internet free and open) enabled tens of thousands to start working together to build the web. Now, about 40 percent of us are connected and creating online. The web has generated trillions of dollars of economic value, transformed education and healthcare and activated many new movements for democracy around the world. And we’re just getting started. How has this happened? By design, the underlying Internet and the WWW are non-hierarchical, decentralized and radically open. The web can be made to work with any type of information, on any device, with any software, in any language. You can link to any piece of information. You don’t need to ask for permission. What you create is limited only by your imagination.
Notice the role (or should we say, non-role) that intellectual property rights played in the development of the Internet.