The Story of Patent Law: 8 Key Moments in History

1) 500 B.C.E., Sybaris –

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One of the first known references to intellectual property (IP) protection dates back to 500 B.C.E. This initial IP protection was given to chefs in the colony of Sybaris, who were granted year-long monopolies over their unique recipes and culinary creations. Sybaris was an ancient Greek city in southern Italy, widely known for the wealth and the luxury of its inhabitants.

2) 1421, Florence –

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The Florentine Patent Statute of 1421 was one of the first instances of a codified law that protected intellectual property rights. It is seen by many as the first iteration of modern patent law. The Republic of Florence issued this patent to Filippo Brunelleschi, a famous architect, on June 19, 1421.

Florence’s patent statute recognized the rights that authors, inventors, and artists had over the intellectual property they produced. Additionally, the law included an incentive mechanism, which later became a prominent feature of common law intellectual property protection in England and in the United States.

3) 1624, Great Britain –

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Statute of Monopolies (1624) enacted the right for the Monarchy to grant fourteen-year monopolies to authors and inventors for inventions of new manufacture. It ended the practice of granting rights to non-original/new ideas or works already in the public domain. Most of the patents issued were grants, privileges, and monopolies given by the Monarch as a control mechanism.

4) 1700s, United States of America –

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During the Enlightenment period of the 18th century, the secret society of Freemasons had trade secrets. Trade secrets are pieces of information that are kept confidential within a business or select group in order to have a competitive edge. The unauthorized use of such information by persons other than the secret’s owners is seen as a violation.

The Freemasons were masterminds of higher-order thinking, as they were a group of collegiately trained professionals. They would trade key information and learn from each other in order to innovate and move society forward.

JD Houvener, USPTO-licensed patent attorney with Bold Patents, says of the Freemasons that, “They held onto most of society’s knowledge, and did not want to share their information with anyone else, treating their information like modern-day trade secrets. Knowledge was with these elite few until the Constitution and the Patent Act codified IP law and incentivized innovation.”

Freemasonry further epitomized the ideals of the Enlightenment by encouraging its members to pursue lives filled with integrity, honesty, and love for all humankind. Some of the most famous and influential men of the 18th century were Freemasons including Voltaire, John Locke, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere.

5) 1787-1971, United States of America –

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The Constitution of the United States, which established America’s government and fundamental laws, was signed in 1787. In 1789, Congress adopted 12 amendments and sent them to the states for ratification. These amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, became part of the Constitution on December 10, 1791.

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution is known as the Patent and Copyright Clause. This clause grants Congress the power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

This clause is crucial to IP law because it codified America’s pro-innovation policy and began to incentivize idealists, thinkers, and inventors to publicize and promote their ideas.

6) 1790s, United States of America –

The United States Congress passed the First Patent Act  in 1790. This act defined the subject matter of a U.S. patent as “any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement thereon not before known or used.”

This first patent act devised an examination system, which signified the beginning of the US Patent and Trademark Office. The system was a way in which patents would only be granted after being approved of by patent board members. Applicants were to provide a patent description, a drawing, and a model. After examining the application, the board members would issue a patent if they deemed “the invention or discovery sufficiently useful and important.”

Today –

Patent Law had evolved greatly since the US Patent Act of 1790, but the USPTO’s standards and requirements for getting a patent have maintained their ethos. An applicant still has to prove they have something that falls under the subject matter of eligibility, and that qualifies as worthy of being protected as IP by federal law.

The article is written by Carly Klein. She is a law student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. A graduate from Boston University with a B.A. in Political Science & Philosophy, she previously served an Americorps term at the American Red Cross in Los Angeles on the Service to the Armed Forces & International Services Team.

About the Author

Dattatreya Mandal
Dattatreya Mandal has a bachelor's degree in Architecture (and associated History of Architecture) and a fervent interest in History. Formerly, one of the co-owners of an online architectural digest, he is currently the founder/editor of Realmofhistory.com. The latter is envisaged as an online compendium that mirrors his enthusiasm for ancient history, military, mythology, and historical evolution of architecture.
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