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21 August 2011
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Free as in speech or free beer?

The first ever web page was published twenty years ago this month. The Linux project is also celebrating its twentieth birthday this month. These are two examples that are emblematic of how free has changed the world. They are free as in speech, but also free as in beer.

Mike Sendall was Tim Berners-Lee’s supervisor at the time he wrote ‘Information Management: A Proposal’. He scribbled on the top, “vague but interesting,” and gave Tim time to work on the idea. He could have told him to go and get on with some proper physics. The idea was turned into the WWW, and, like anything else you invent on the company’s time, belonged to CERN. They gave away their idea to create the W3C that lead to the WWW we know today.

Tim Berners-Lee was 25 when he first started work on hypertext, 34 when he had the WWW idea first and 36 when page one of the WWW was published. Linus Torvalds was 20 when he started on Linux. This age range covers when most doctors are juniors.

If you are supervising a junior doctor how will you know when the one in front of you is the next Tim Berners-Lee? Will you tell them to go and get on with some proper medicine? If you are further up the food chain and one of your junior doctors comes along with an idea will you ignore it, patent it or give it away?

What impact is the new NHS going to have on our willingness to give things away? What is the healthcare version of the WWW? Are there some innovations that can be profitable while patented and some that must be free (beer or speech) to work?

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About the author

Duncan McPherson's picture

Duncan McPherson

Duncan is a Specialist Registrar in Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine in Wessex. He is researching an MD on patient safety.


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