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Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award
Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:03 AM EST

Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn have been awarded the Turing award for the TCP/IP protocol. Or in plain English, for making the Internet possible. One of the reasons given for the adoption of the TCP/IP protocols was they were unencumbered by patent claims, because Cerf and Kahn didn't file for any. This was open source at its purest:

"Dr. Cerf said part of the reason their protocols took hold quickly and widely was that he and Dr. Kahn made no intellectual property claims to their invention. They made no money from it, though it did help their careers. 'It was an open standard that we would allow anyone to have access to without any constraints,' he said.

"Dr. Cerf said he was 'pretty amazed' by what the Internet had become. He was quick to add, 'I suppose anyone who worked on the railroad, or power generation and distribution, would have similar feelings about how amazing it is after you create infrastructure.'

"Dr. Cerf is also quite realistic about the recognition his contribution deserves. Creating a tool is one thing, he said, but credit for what people do with it is something no inventor can claim."

Can you imagine if the protocol had been created by Microsoft instead? That is the problem with proprietary thinking. It's hard for them to see the forest for their own little trees. This story also proves that innovation is not dependent on patents. There are, believe it or not, plenty of Open Source folks who will invent wonderful things that change the world for the better just for the joy of it. TCP/IP is Exhibit A.

For more on software patents, and how they hinder creativity, and open standards, you might find this talk by Sun's Simon Phipps of interest, if you have a computer that can play Windows Media files. The rest of the talks at that conference, including the one from Microsoft's representative that Phipps references, can be found here. There's one thing about Sun Microsystems I have noticed. They let their employees be themselves. I noticed that yesterday at LinuxWorld, where I spoke to a number of Sun employees, and they all fearlessly tell you the truth, even when it is mildly negative about Sun. It's striking and quite remarkable, and it's one thing Sun is doing right.


Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award | 288 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Typos, errors etc
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:24 AM EST
"enuncumbered" :-) ?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Errors here?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:24 AM EST
"Enuncumbered?" -- that's just precis. :)

[ Reply to This | # ]

Exhibit B
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:34 AM EST

[ Reply to This | # ]

Corrections here
Authored by: ansak on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:34 AM EST
First correction...

I think they were adopted "because they were _NOT_ encumbered by
patents", no?


[ Reply to This | # ]

Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award
Authored by: Steve Martin on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:35 AM EST

Can you imagine if the protocol had been created by Microsoft instead?

Wait — you mean it wasn't?

"When I say something, I put my name next to it." -- Isaac Jaffee, "Sports Night"

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft-Style Protocols
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:43 AM EST
Can you imagine if the protocol had been created by Microsoft instead?

Yes, actually. TCP/IP wasn't the only game in town. IBM's SNA (Systems Network Architecture) was probably the leading contender as the alternative, and it was (still is) top-grade technically. (Some would say it's even a little better, especially in the quality of service area.) It's still used and supported, particularly in the financial industry, and IBM will support it forever (the company does respect its customers) had to license it back in the day.

Toss in AppleTalk, IBM/Microsoft NetBIOS NETBEUI, Novell IPX/SPX, and several others. TCP/IP had plenty of rivals.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Just wait...
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:46 AM EST
Just wait. If Microsoft can only distract people so they don't realize there is
already an internet they could patent it all....<evil laugh>

[ Reply to This | # ]

Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award
Authored by: cinly on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:55 AM EST
Long overdue honour. Well, at least they did not have to wait as long as Nobel
Prize winners.

All views expressed here are my own and do not reflect that of any institution I
am affiliated to

[ Reply to This | # ]

OT here
Authored by: ctrawick on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 08:57 AM EST

[ Reply to This | # ]

Unencumbered (no reg req'd) link to NYT article
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 09:06 AM EST

Here is an unencumbered (no registration required) link to the same story from another web site. 

[ Reply to This | # ]

What if MS had owned TCP/IP?
Authored by: bwcbwc on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 09:25 AM EST
We don't have to stretch too far to imagine what it would be like if MS had
patented TCP/IP. ...Apple had the proprietary AppleTalk protocol, Novell had
Netware protocols, and MS/IBM had NetBIOS. All are still in use, but have
nowhere near the breadth of usage that TCP/IP does because of all the ugly
factors associated of being the consumer of a monopoly: high cost, vendor
lock-in, etc.

On the other hand, what if TCP/IP hadn't existed, or had been patented, and we
were forced to choose from the patented network technologies?

We still wouldn't have the internet, open source wouldn't be as prevalent in
general (if at all: could GNU have succeeded without TCP/IP to allow developers
to communicate?), and the Unix vendors would have had to choose from the
proprietary protocols or roll their own, further fragmenting the market.

We'd probably all still be using Compuserve or a non-Internet AOL or not be
online at all. Demand for online service would be lower.

We'd still be using ISDN or dialup instead of DSL/Cable because the demand for
online access wouldn't support the infrastructure upgrades for the more advanced
services. DSL and Cable modems would probably be available in some cities, but
nowhere near the distribution we have now.

Response to the Asian Tsunami and other disasters would have been less

On the flip side: TCP/IP is a mono-culture just as much as Windows is, so
without TCP/IP we would have less trouble from spam and viruses and worms (oh
my!). We wouldn't have had the internet boom-crash-bang, so the geo-political
situation would be different. Could the US have invaded Iraq without TCP/IP?

The world owes Cerf and Kahn just as much for not patenting TCP/IP as it owes
Bell Labs for not patenting the transistor. The world would be a different place
without them.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 09:49 AM EST
From the Shankland article: '"Refusing to patent one's ideas is leaving
exposed for absolutely no good reason," Fink said.'

And then in the very next Groklaw article we seem to have a massive counter-
example. Two people who created TCP/IP, did not patent it, and shook the
world. What does this say about Fink's argument? Did Cerf and Kahn "leave
themselves exposed" by not patenting TCP/IP? How?

[ Reply to This | # ]

"...proves that innovation is not dependent on patents"
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 09:56 AM EST
Yeah, but, presumably Cerf & Kahn both get paid some other way.

Some of us have to work, create, innovate, just to get paid.

And you have to protect that work (including using patents) or you *don't* get
paid. If we could trust everyone to be honest and fair, then it wouldn't be

Your example is excellent for an open protocol, but that's not the only world
software resides in.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 10:23 AM EST
"Can you imagine if the protocol had been created by Microsoft instead?
That is the problem with proprietary thinking."

That's too painful to even consider. The entire Internet would be melting down
regularly with Microsoft telling everyone to reboot and things will be fine.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft couldn't create TCP-IP
Authored by: clark_kent on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 10:45 AM EST
"Can you imagine if the protocol had been created by Microsoft

No, they wouldn't create it. They would steal it, and then patent/copyright it
and call it their own. That is what I believe happened to DOS with Digital
Research, Seattle Software, and IBM.

Yes, go right ahead. Call me a conspiracy-theorist. Not including the DOS
theory, I am correct most of the time when it comes to figuring the of haze and
smokescreens of Microsoft.

[ Reply to This | # ]

I agree, creations should be unencumbered.
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 10:50 AM EST
So, will you stop using a license that prohibits commercial use of your work?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 11:08 AM EST
Can you imagine if the protocol had been created by Microsoft instead?
I was around when M$ discovered the intranet and judging from the work they did
to 'support' the intranet I'm convinced they were trying to kill it off!
Fortunately they're only good at selling.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 12:45 PM EST
"... For more on software patents, and how they hinder creativity, and open
standards, you might find this talk by Sun's Simon Phipps of interest, if you
have a computer that can play Windows Media files..."

If you are using Linux, try xine for playing .wmv files... (Though mplayer also
has this capability...)

GL (Not logged in)

[ Reply to This | # ]

Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 01:16 PM EST
What exactly does a 'software patent' restrict, in the USA ? I'm assured that in
the UK, you may infringe as many patents as you wish in the privacy of your own
home and no judge will ask you to stop or order any other of the more draconian
measures. So, if we get software patents in the UK, I can guess where all the
software will get written. How about the USA ?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Comment period: Changes to rules for Electronic Evidenc
Authored by: darkonc on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 01:17 PM EST
Slashdot reports that changes are being proposed to the rules for discovery and usage of electronic evidnce -- mainly restricting their accessibility and use.

I think that the people here are well posed for comment on this... but note:

I haven't read it myself (running out of time).

Powerful, committed communication. Touching the jewel within each person and bringing it to life..

[ Reply to This | # ]

tcp/ip - the first mailing list
Authored by: Nick_UK on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 02:27 PM EST
I found this ages ago googling for something - I just spent 10 minutes finding it again.

Subject: TCP-IP Digest, Vol 1 #1

Interesting read.


[ Reply to This | # ]

  • The link - Authored by: Nick_UK on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 02:31 PM EST
    • The link - Authored by: NetArch on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 05:30 PM EST
International Effort
Authored by: chris_bloke on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 03:10 PM EST

First off, many congratulations to Vint and Rob for this well deserved recognition!

However, this did not happen in a vacuum, let us not forget that TCP (only split into TCP/IP in 1978) grew out of existing work on NCP and both NCP and TCP had an international flavour with people like the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE, later DRA, later DERA, later split into DSTL and QinetiQ) involved in developing both the protocols (for instance dynamic timeouts for retransmission), the ARPANET and those all important face-to-face meetings. This was very much a defence driven project.

Disclaimer: the above is biased towards them because I was lucky enough to have worked with those folks in the UK for many years, but there would have been many others, such as the UCL crew, who did important work.

[ Reply to This | # ]

SCO is dead
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 04:37 PM EST
SCO is toast.

  • PJ hasn't even noticed them for several days. The Yarro cases are more interesting.
  • PJ goes to a linuxworld conference, and talks about pondering the future of groklaw post-sco.
  • Clearly SCO is now less than an insect in PJs world view.
  • Meanwhile SCO misses an important 10-K report deadline and faces delisting from NASDAQ.
  • Weird things are happening to SCO stock. Insiders have stopped trading.
  • Over on Yahoo! there is much speculation.
  • Have the auditors refused to sign off on the accounts.
  • What have they found?
  • Have Valkyrie Val and her sidekick Mr Mustard uncovered something fishy in Yarros desk?
  • Has the extraction of capital from a rapidly sinking SCO crossed the legal line?
  • There is the scent of blood in the water.
  • SCO is toast but it is like nobody cares. People are acting like SCO is already dead.

    "SCO? They are still around? Didn't they once claim to own linux or something? I thought IBM squashed them already."

    The world moves on.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Kevin & Kell on Software Patents
    Authored by: jimbudler on Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 07:20 PM EST 2005/kk0216.html

    Jim Budler

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Open source?
    Authored by: spuzzzzzzz on Thursday, February 17 2005 @ 03:14 AM EST
    Techinically, TCP/IP is not open source, it's an open standard (with lots of
    open source implementations). Which is really more important when you think
    about it. If a company creates an open (non-patent-encumbered) standard with a
    closed implementation, the community is still free to develop an open version.
    On the other hand, if a company develops patent-encumbered open source program
    (Solaris 10, anyone?), the community could be risking legal problems by working
    on it.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Some thoughts about proper licensing for creating standards
    Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, February 17 2005 @ 05:00 AM EST
    I want to share some thoughts about proper licensing for creating new
    How do you best license an implementation of a network protocol?

    BSD: One good practise we could see was the BSD TCP/IP stack. It was used even
    by Microsoft.
    On the other Hand, had Microsoft not been too late, this implementation would
    have been distorted by the well known "embrace and extend" tactic.
    This was actually done with the Java language, which fortunately was reversable
    by courts (which were too late) because Java was NOT released under a BSD -
    style license.
    So my conclusion is: BSD license is good for an implementation of a protocol
    where there is no monopoly player in the market. If there is a monopoly player
    other licenses would be preferable.

    GPL: Advantage: Can be embraced and extended, but the extensions have to be made
    public and any patents resulting from that extension cannot be used against
    other users of this extensions. Disadvantage: In effect prohibits use by
    proprietary vendors, thus either every proprietary vendor has to program their
    own implementation of the protocol, or the protocol becomes marginalized and no
    standard. Also if a company has made an implementaton of the protocol, nothing
    can stop them extending the protocol.

    LGPL: Same Advantage as GPL, but allows proprietary vendors to use the library
    in their products. But what if just using the protocol as a library is not
    possible for technical reasons (for example in monolithic kernels)? Then it is
    just like the GPL, proprietary Vendors cannot use it.

    I think we should come up with a license not only for the implementation of a
    protocol, but also with a license for the protocol itself. (Is that possible?)
    This license should allow usage and implementation of the protocol, maybe even
    should allow extensions but should force the resulting protocol (not the
    implementation) to be made fully open again (also patents on the extensions must
    be made open). Some sort of GPL for protocol definitions.
    With this sort of license understanding of open protocols and open standards by
    standardisation bodies and governmental agencies would be better, because the
    standardisation bodies could simply request that all protocol definitions that
    want to go into a standard would have to adhere to the OPL (open protocol
    license). Then everybody could implement that standard under any license he
    wishes, but extensions to the protocol itself would have to be made public, and
    this would be enforcable in front of a court. There would have to be a clause in
    that license that forbids distribution of an implementation of the protocol or
    derivative thereof, without making available a full documentation of the
    protocol for the maximum price of shipping costs (like GPL and LGPL).

    Any ideas? Can anyone of you friendly lawyers and law-knowledgeable people work
    out such a license? I'm a techie (mechanical engineer) so I would not know where
    to start.

    Geri (too lazy to remember yet another password)

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Vint Cerf explains that "surfing the net" is NOT a play on his name
    Authored by: ENOTTY on Thursday, February 17 2005 @ 08:04 AM EST
    One question - is this why we 'surf' the net?
    In 1989, General Atomics, in San Diego, California, initiated an effort to create an ISP to serve the needs of the academic and research communities in the area. They planned to call the ISP SURFNET and the planned an ad campaign around the idea of "surfing the net" - including T-shirts showing people on surfboards skating over oceans of information. But not long before launch, they discovered there was a company in the Netherlands called SURFNET - the name had been taken!

    They caucused on the problem and someone suggested they call themselves the California Educational and Research Foundation Network or CERFNET. Then some said they should call me to see if that was ok. First I was hesitant, thinking that if they screwed it up, it would embarrass me. Then I remembered that people often name their kids after other people and don't blame the other people if the kids don't come out right. So I agreed and flew to San Diego on July 10, 1989 to inaugurate the CERFNET with the executive director, Susan Estrada, by breaking a plastic bottle of fake champagne filled with glitter over a Cisco router.

    In 1992, Jean Armour Polly wrote an editorial called "Surfing the Net" and the term seems to have been cemented into the language by that.

    It is just a delicious coincidence that my name sounds the same.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    New Nobel Prize category announced
    Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, February 17 2005 @ 02:10 PM EST
    Feb 17, 2005

    "The Swedish Academy has announced that a new category of Nobel Prizes
    would be awarded starting with the 2005 awards. The category is Lying and the
    winners are..."

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Cerf and Kahn Win Turing Award
    Authored by: chaosd-II on Friday, February 18 2005 @ 03:52 AM EST
    TCP-IP isn't the only unemcumbered IT development around. I'm pretty certain the following 'IP' issues are not patented.
    • Most basic algorithms (Hash tables, sort algorithms, tree data structures, parsing algorithms, paging algorithms etc).
    • Business Management - Using an IT system to sequence work and deliveries, Lyons Cakes developed the first 'MRP' system. Good job they were more interested in icing than IP (sorry, couldn't resist that one).
    • Most programming languages - at least, all the good ones ;-)

    The scariest is: what if Alan Turing had laid down a patent for Turing Machines? Chaosd (II) Stupid Question is an Oxymoron.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

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