Intellectual property rights history is a fascinating look at the way ownership rights in copyrights, trademarks, and patent evolved over the years. The protection of intellectual property, such as copyrights, trademarks, and patents, has played a vital role in the economic growth and development in a world in which innovations in thought, technology, and commerce have flourished.

The earliest record of the granting of a patent for a person’s creations is in Sybaris, a Greek state, around 500 BCE. The state granted any citizen a one-year patent for “any new refinement in luxury.” Although much has changed in intellectual property law since that time, the basic intent is the same – to protect the rights of inventors, artists, and merchants to promote the exchange of ideas and reward creativity.

Mercantilism in Medieval Europe and Intellectual Property Laws

With the emergence of an economy based on trade in Medieval Europe, associations of merchants and artisans arose, grew in stature, and gained recognition from the city-states to promote the orderly conduct of commerce. The power to introduce new innovations in the creation of goods and services rested solely with the guilds, although many of the advances in intellectual property law that took place throughout Europe at this time were generated more by the consolidation of power and political and religious agendas of the authorities. In many cases, rather than create an open forum for the exchange of ideas, the guilds used their rights to govern intellectual property law to establish monopolies that stifled new technologies that were perceived as a threat to the status quo.

Elizabethan England and the Growth of Intellectual Property Laws

In 1623, by Act of Parliament in England, the first real strides toward intellectual property laws as we know them today took place. The “Stature of Monopolies” granted the “true and first inventor” a period of 14 years of exclusive control over any invention he created. Since then, through common law and legislative acts, intellectual property laws have continued to develop. It was another Act of Parliament, the Stature of Anne, almost 100 years later that inventors were granted the possibility of a 14-year renewal based upon the satisfaction of certain conditions.

Intellectual Property Laws in the U.S.

When the colonies gained their independence from England following the Revolutionary War, intellectual property laws were based in large part on what had existed in its mother country up until that time. Prior to the ratification of the Constitution, however, there was no unified patent law throughout the colonies, and each state took it upon themselves to create legislation to protect patents. Understandably, this did not encourage innovation because rights would not transfer across state borders.

The founding fathers realized the shortcoming of such a situation and addressed the problem by endowing upon the federal government the authority to grant patents and copyrights. Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution gives the government the power to “Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, but securing for limited Times to authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their Respective Writings and Discoveries.” This guarantees that only federal courts, and not state courts, can hear cases that pertain to the fair exercise of intellectual property rights throughout the United States. In 1982, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was established under Article III of the Constitution and has nationwide jurisdiction over patent and trademark cases.

Global Intellectual Property Law History

Intellectual property law gained wider protections in Europe throughout the 1800s.

Today, international intellectual property law is governed by the World Intellectual Property Organization, which is an agency of the United Nations.

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