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.