History Of Patents
The idea of protecting innovation and gaining economic advantage from that innovation is not a new one.Next – What is a Patent?
The practice of granting privileges to citizens first found voice in Venice as early as the 12th Century. Here ten-year monopolies were granted to the inventors of a silk weaving process.
The English had, by the 14th Century, adopted a system whereby the Crown granted special privileges to entrepreneurs so that they alone could use their imported invention until it became a viable industry. In fact the earliest known patent was granted to John Utyman in 1449 to a glass-making process used by Venetian Glass makers but not before known in England. In return for the royalties granted, Mr Utyman was required to teach his process to Native Englishmen. Ironically, the patent was granted for a period of 20 years.
One important difference between the patents of today is that the earliest privileges made no distinction between inventors and importers of new techniques. The sole purpose of such privileges was to secure new technologies for domestic use and to limit dependence on imports. The contract between the Crown and the entrepreneur was thus born, as was the realization that new technologies when introduced domestically could create jobs and stimulate economies.
The first statutes relating to Patents were issued in the Republic of Venice in 1474 where it was decreed that new and inventive devices, once they had been put into practice, had to be communicated to the Republic in order to obtain legal protection against potential infringers. This statute laid down the general principals of Patent Law. Namely, that the invention had to be new and useful (to the State), that the rights conferred to the inventor were to be exclusive, that the Patent was for a limited time and importantly, that infringers could be brought to account and their infringing devices seized and destroyed.
Meanwhile, in England, the Crown continued to offer privileges to those it thought worthy, finding it a more than useful way to raise funds. So much so that the practice of granting Letter Patents was widely abused and led to general dissatisfaction among the common folk. In fact, the Crown granted monopolies to any favoured persons usually for a sum of money for both new goods and old.
After much public outcry, James the First, was forced to cancel all existing patent privileges. The Statute of Monopolies was thus adopted in 1623 which granted monopolies only to new inventions and for a limited period of time. The Statute stated that:
“any letters patent and grants of privilege for the term of fourteen years or under, hereafter to be made, of the sole working or making of any manner of new manufactures within this realm, to the true and first inventor of such manufactures which others at the time of making such letters patents and grants shall not use”.
The system of Patents and its use accelerated particularly during the Industrial revolution, and was adopted by other countries. The United States introduced its first Patent laws in 1790; France in 1791 and in 1883, the patent systems was internationalized via the signing of the Paris Convention.