Invention Mysteries TM
Self-syndicated weekly newspaper column


Who invented the World Wide Web – 
and why did he choose to NOT patent it?
(HINT:  It wasn't Al Gore)

"Oh, I see they’ve got the Internet on computers now."

Which famous "person" said this?

If you guessed that it was former vice president Al Gore, you were close. While Mr. Gore didn't actually make the above statement, he did claim to play a major role in creating the Internet and, as a result, has often been taken to task for his claim. 

The sole inventor of the World Wide Web is Timothy Berners-Lee, an English computer scientist. The birth of his brainchild began in 1989, when he envisioned a way to link documents on the Internet so that web surfers could jump from one document to another through hyperlinks. 

The Web has revolutionized the computer world, as there were more than 140 million Americans online in 2001 -- which translates into 54 percent of the U.S. population -- and the number of Americans using the Web continues to grow each day. It almost seems that nearly every man, woman and child now has their own web site.

Many people don’t realize that there is a big difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web, since the two terms are often used interchangeably.

The Internet is a network of computers all linked together through phone lines, while the Web is connected by hypertext links. It is the Web that people are talking about when they refer to the "Information Superhighway."

The Internet can exist without the Web, but the Web could not exist without the Internet. The Web made the Internet useful because people are interested in information rather than a system of computers and cables.

Berners-Lee has been hailed by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest minds of the 20th century. His invention has greatly changed the way people do business, as millions of Americans now use the Web for all kinds of purchases, research and other functions. Time even suggested that the Web may be as important an invention as Gutenberg’s printing press, which was developed in the mid-1400's.

Berners-Lee could have patented the World Wide Web and made money each time someone visits a web site, but instead his desire was for everyone to be able to benefit from the Web, and this is the reason why he chose to NOT patent it. He passed up a fortune so that the world would benefit from it.

Another reason for not patenting his technology was because he feared that the Web wouldn't develop as fully if he patented it. He felt that it was necessary to make the Web an open system in order for it to be universal and allow others to contribute to its development, and he has fought to keep it open and free.

The full impact of his invention has yet to be fully known; Berners-Lee thinks that the Web will eventually be able to reason with humans.

What is the inventor of the World Wide Web doing now?

Berners-Lee is currently the director of the World Wide Web Consortium, the coordinating body for Web development, and he also occupies the 3Com Founders chair at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science.

So who was it that made that infamous remark at the beginning of this column, "Oh, I see they’ve got the Internet on computers now?"

None other than Homer Simpson. D’oh!

NEXT WEEK:  "Everything that CAN be invented -- has already BEEN invented," and other famous invention-related quotes

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© 2002 Paul Niemann

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