The Internet (and the www) is possibly the single greatest tool for freedom in human history, and it has only been around for about 17 years; its existence was for a while tenuous, and could have been retarded, severely distorted, or even extinguished, by a fluke of IP law.
Interesting post from NPR about CERN’s decision in 1993 not to patent the basic protocol of the world-wide web. If they had not done this who knows what would have happened. (It is odd that they contacted law professor Mark Lemley to ask him whether the web could have been patented, as Lemley was never a practicing patent attorney. It’s like asking a podiatrist a detailed question about brain surgery. But what-evs.) CERN might have had a patent, but on what—on a moribund, unused protocol.
This is illustrative of the fact that many current technologies and practices would have been retarded, more severely distorted, or even obliterated altogether, had IP been enforced as it is “supposed to be.” For a case in point, consider Microsoft’s OS (see Bill Gates’ 1991 Comments on Patents) and other technologies like laser printers and fashion (see Leveraging IP). And future technologies like 3D printing are of course imperiled even now by IP (see The IP War on 3D Printing Begins; Masnick, Don’t Let Patents Kill 3D Printing).
For the rest of the story: http://intellihub.com/2013/05/02/how-the-decision-not-to-patent-gave-rise-to-the-internet/