History of patent law

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Patent law has a rich and extensive history that began as early as 500 BCE, where chefs in Sybaris had the opportunity to enjoy a year of monopolized profit for a unique dish that they had created. This is possibly the first intellectual property protection reference, although the Sybaritic law was “[w]ell-known—but apocryphal” notes Bruce Bugbee in his Genesis of American Patent and Copyright Law (p. 166 n. 5).

Several hundreds of years afterwards, Vitruvius, who served as a judge in Alexandria, tried and exposed several poets who were guilty of stealing the material of others in their field. From then on, Roman jurists discussed different types of ownership for intellectual works, although they still did not have any intellectual property laws.

In 1416, the Great Council of Venice awarded the first patent for a technological invention to Ser Franciscus Petri of Rhodes. Later, in 1421, architect Filippo Brunelleschi was granted an individual act to in protection of his intellectual property rights. A 1474 statute then provided a statutory alternative to the existing ad hoc system that was already in place to provide intellectual property protection.

The Statute of Monopolies was passed by the English Parliament in 1623. Luigi Palombi refers to it as “the mother of modern patent law in all common law countries”. England also had monopolies before 1623. For example, in 1449, Henry VI granted letters patent to a Flemish man for the manufacture of stained glass in England. Sir Edward Coke principally drafted the 1623 statute to outlaw abusive monopolies, particularly those granted under the King’s letters patent. 1710 marked the passage of the Statute of Anne, a copyright law.

In 1787, the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power to secure inventors’ rights (Article I, Section 8). The U.S. has had patent protection since 1790, which was developed over the next several hundred years with standards significantly expanded in the 1950’s. Since then, many subsequent changes have been made to patent law.

To learn more about the history of patent law, checkout this infographic created by the University of Southern California’s Online LL.M. program.

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