In 1853, the Supreme Court gave Samuel Morse some bad news. In O'Reilly v. Morse, the justices approved the inventor's patent for part of the telegraph that delivered the Morse code message "What Hath God Wrought?" but said he could not patent the idea of sending messages electronically across great distances. Ideas alone, the justices said, cannot be patented.
Morse's descendants should demand a rehearing. The standards for patents are so low that simply having an idea often justifies a patent. Morse wanted a patent to cover "electro-magnetism, however developed, for marking or printing intelligible characters, signs, letters, at any distance, being a new application of that power of which I claim to be the first inventor or discoverer."
This would have been a patent for all uses of the telegraph—and would also have included the Internet.