What if the Internet was Patented?

Have you ever considered what it would mean if the internet was patented? Some possibilities of this scenario would include no open internet (as we know it) but rather “walled garden” internet use. That would mean everything within the platform was restricted and access controlled by the licensed holder. Innovation on the internet would be restricted too because the patent would limit ability to do so. Worst of all there would be no Google! Online searches would be limited to the proprietary system you were on (think of all the wasted search engine questions you couldn’t ask in your spare time!) No more self diagnosis with Dr. Google.

A few years ago, one man named Michael Doyle believed his patent covered the World Wide Web as we know it today.

He claimed that himself and two co-inventors first came up with the interactive web at the University of California in 1993. They filed for the patent in 1994 and were granted it in 1998 giving them reason to believe their company Eolas Technologies could sue just about anyone who had an interactive part of their website. Think; music clips, search features, embedded video and maps to name a few.

They filed a major lawsuit for millions in royalties against tech and internet companies that included Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Adobe Systems, eBay, Go Daddy, Apple and YouTube (plus many more). There were many people who didn’t agree with the patent claim. Tim Berners-Lee was one of them and even testified in court saying it was a serious threat to the internet.

Berners-Lee famously created the first website in 1991. He also designed and built the first web browser called WorldWideWeb (later renamed Nexus), originally coming up with the idea to join hypertext with the internet.

Another person who testified against the patent claim was Pei-Yuan Wei who created a web browser called Viola. His testimony confirmed that he had disclosed the inventions claimed by Eolas prior to Sept 7th 1993 (their patent filing date). While the patent lawsuit dragged on for many years, some of the companies originally sued chose to settle with Eolas outside of court before a verdict had even been reached.

One of those was Microsoft who reportedly paid a settlement sum of $100 million. This highlights the issue of “patent assertion entities” whose main business is to claim licensing fees and damages from technology companies. Some people refer to them as “patent trolls.”

The lawsuit was eventually thrown out after a decade of litigation but many critics believe the question remains as to WHY a patent was ever granted to Eolas Technology in the first place.

So, in honour of your ability to use the internet freely we’d love to know;

What’s the most pointless thing you’ve ever Googled?

And if you have a life changing invention you’d like to patent, contact our IP & Trademarking team here.