History of patent law

History of patent law

The history of patents and patent laws is generally considered to have started in Italy with a Venetian Statute of 1474 which was issued by the Republic of Venice. [ Helmut Schippel: Die Anfänge des Erfinderschutzes in Venedig, in: Uta Lindgren (Hrsg.): Europäische Technik im Mittelalter. 800 bis 1400. Tradition und Innovation, 4. Aufl., Berlin 2001, S.539-550 ISBN 3-7861-1748-9] They issued a decree by which 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. The period of protection was 10 years. [cite web | url=http://www.wolfgang-pfaller.de/venedig.htm | title=Wolfgang-Pfaller.de: Patentgesetz von Venedig |language=German / Italian]

Patents, however, existed before the law. The first Italian patent was actually awarded by the Republic of Florence in 1421, [Terence Kealey, "The Economic Laws of Scientific Research", St. Martin's Press, 1996] and there is evidence suggesting that something like patents was used among some ancient Greek cities. [Gregory A Stobbs, "Software Patents", Aspen Publishers, 2000, ISBN 0-7355-1499-2, page 3.]

History by country


The crown of England issued letters patent providing any person with a "monopoly" to produce particular goods or provide particular services. The first such letter was granted by Henry VI in 1449 to a Flemish man for a 20 year monopoly for his invention.

This was the start of a long tradition by the English Crown of granting of "letters patent" which granted "monopolies" to favoured persons (or people who were prepared to pay for them) [cite web|url=http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/blackstone/blacksto.htm |title= Blackstone's Commentaries | quote=THE king's grants are alʃo matter of public record. For, as St. Germyn ʃays, the king's excellency is ʃo high in the law, that no freehold may be given to the king, nor derived from him, but by matter of record. And to this end a variety of offices are erected, communicating in a regular ʃubordination one with another, through which all the king's grants muʃt paʃs, and be tranʃcribed, and enrolled; that the ʃame may by narrowly inʃpected by his officers, who will inform him if any thing contained therein is improper, or unlawful to be granted. Theʃe grants, whether of lands, honours, liberties, franchiʃes, or ought beʃides, are contained in charters, or letters patent, that is, open letters, literae patentes: ʃo called becauʃe they are not ʃealed up, but expoʃed to open view, with the great ʃeal pendant at the bottom; and are uʃually directed or addreʃʃed by the king to all his ʃubjects at large. And therein they differ from certain other letters of the king, ʃealed alʃo with his great ʃeal, but directed to particular perʃons, and for particular purpoʃes: which therefore, not being proper for public inʃpection, are cloʃed up and ʃealed on the outʃide, and are thereupon called writs cloʃe, literae clauʃae; and are recorded in the cloʃe-rolls, in the ʃame manner as the others are in the patent-rolls...|accessdate=2008-02-24 ] . Blackstone (same reference) also explains how "letters patent" (Latin "literae patentes", "letters that lie open") were so called because the seal hung from the foot of the document: they were addressed "To all to whom these presents shall come" and could be read without breaking the seal, as opposed to "letters close", addressed to a particular person who had to break the seal to read them.

This power was used to raise money for the crown, and was widely abused, as the Crown granted patents in respect of all sorts of common goods (salt, for example). Consequently, the Court began to limit the circumstances in which they could be granted. After public outcry, James I of England was forced to revoke all existing monopolies and declare that they were only to be used for 'projects of new invention'. This was incorporated into the Statute of Monopolies in which Parliament restricted the crown's power explicitly so that the King could only issue letters patent to the inventors or introducers of original inventions for a fixed number of years.

In the reign of Queen Anne (1702 - 1714) lawyers of the English Court developed the requirement that a written description of the invention must be submitted [http://www.ipo.gov.uk/about/about-ourorg/about-history/about-history-patent/about-history-patent-18century.htm] . These developments, which were in place during the Colonial period before Independence of the U.S., were the foundation for patent law in the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

In the United Kingdom, the Patents Act 1977 harmonised UK patent law with the European Patent Convention. Consequently, UK patent law is no longer based on the Statute of Monopolies, but an amalgam of UK and European practices. Coincidentally, the current length of UK/EU patents is still 20 years, similar to that of the original declaration by Henry VI on the manufacture of stained glass (destined for Eton College) [http://ipmall.info/hosted_resources/lipa/patents/English_Statute1623.pdf] .

United States

During the period of America’s Thirteen Colonies a few inventors were able to obtain monopolies (i.e. "patents") to produce and sell their inventions. These monopolies were granted by petition to a given colony’s legislature.

In 1646, for example, the Province of Massachusetts Bay granted inventor Joseph Jenks Sr. the exclusive right to set up water mills using a speedier engine he had developed for making edged tools, such as scythes. His monopoly was to run for 14 years. [http://www.myoutbox.net/popch02.htm|Reference]

The Patent and Copyright Clause of the US Constitution was proposed in 1787 by James Madison and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. In Federalist No. 43, Madison wrote, "The utility of the clause will scarcely be questioned. The copyright of authors has been solmnly adjudged, in Great Britain, to be a right of common law. The right to useful inventions seems with equal reason to belong to the inventors. The public good fully coincides in both cases with the claims of the individuals."

The Patent Commission of the U.S. was created in 1790. Its first three members were Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph.

The first patent was granted on July 30, 1790 to Samuel Hopkins of Philadelphia for a method of producing potash (potassium carbonate), an essential ingredient used in making soap, glass, and gunpowder (Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, [http://www.clpgh.org/clp/Scitech/invent/samhopkins.html] ).

The earliest law required that a working model of each invention be submitted with the application. Patent applications were examined to determine if an inventor was entitled to the grant of a patent. The requirement for a working model was eventually dropped Fact|date=December 2007.

The Patent Law was revised in 1793. The rate of patent grants had grown to about 20 per year and the time burden on the Secretary of State was considered to be too burdensome. Patent applications were no longer examined. Patents were granted simply by submitting a written description of an invention, a model of the invention, if appropriate, and paying a fee of $30 ($1000 in 2006 US dollars). (35 U.S.C. Sec. 112) requires a written description. The Commissioner of the USPTO may ask for additional information, drawings, or diagrams if the description is not clear.

The Patent Board was replaced by a clerk in the Department of State. James Madison, Secretary of State, created a separate Patent Office within the State Department and he appointed Dr. William Thornton as its first superintendent in May 1802. On May 5, 1809 Mary Dixon Kies became the first woman to be awarded a U.S. patent. In 1810, the Patent Office moved from the Department of State to Blodgetts Hotel. In the same year, they opened the patent model storage to the general public.

The patent laws were again revised in 1836. The examination of patent applications was reinstituted. The number of patents granted per year had grown to about 700. Also in 1836 the government began construction of what is now called the Old Patent Office Building, where the offices and models were housed from 1840 until 1932. [ cite web|url=http://www.npg.si.edu/inform/chron.htm |title= National Portrait Gallery Building Chronology |accessdate=2007-04-27 ] The Patent Office is now housed in its own building in Alexandria, Virginia.

The first 10,000 patents issued by the USPTO from July 1790 to July 1836 were destroyed in a fire in December 1836. About 2800 of them were later recovered, but the majority of them are still missing. The recovered patents are now called X-Patents because their patent numbers end with an "X."

In 1870 Congress passed "an Act to revise, consolidate, and amend the Statutes relating to Patents and Copyrights" (16 Stat. 198). This law mainly reorganized and reenacted existing law, but also made some important changes, such as giving the commissioner of patents the authority to draft rules and regulations for the Patent Office.


See also

* History of copyright law
* History of United States patent law

Further reading

* Kenneth W. Dobyns, The Patent Office Pony; A History of the Early Patent Office, Sergeant Kirkland's Press 1994. [http://www.myoutbox.net/pohome.htm]
* Howard B. Rockman, Intellectual Property law for Engineers and Scientists.
* Bugbee, Bruce W. Genesis of American Patent and Copyright Law. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press (1967).
* Christine MacLeod, Inventing the Industrial Revolution: The English patent system, 1660-1800, Cambridge University Press.

External links

;First patents"American"
*X Series : US patent|X000001 "Improvements in making pot ash and pearle ash"
*1st Numerical : US patent|0000001 "Traction Wheel"
*1st Design : US patent|D000001 Script font type
*1st Reissued : US patent|RE00001 "Grain Drill"

* [http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/khan.patents An Economic History of Patent Institutions] Dead link|date=September 2008

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