The History of Intellectual Property – Klinck LLC

The History of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) is a term that refers to work or inventions that are created as a result of someone’s creativity. The person responsible for the creation is given rights to them in the form of patents, copyrights or trademarks. The concept of IP did not happen overnight. Instead, IP as we know it today, has evolved over time.

The Origins of Intellectual Property

The idea of IP dates all the way back to 500 BC. It came about because the Greek state of Sybaris allowed its citizens to obtain a patent for “any new refinement in luxury.” Since then, refinements have been made and laws regarding copyrights and trademarks have become more complicated. However, the intent of the laws has always remained the same. The laws are created to encourage people’s creativity and make it possible for inventors to reap the benefits of their original ideas.

The Advent of Copyrights, Patents and Trademarks

Intellectual property is protected through the obtaining of copyrights, patents and trademarks. These entities were not mentioned in the early history of IP. The first statue involving any of these ideas did not occur until medieval times in Europe, when the Statute of Monopolies was initiated in 1623. During this time, various guilds controlled all major industries. Each guild held a significant amount of power, as the government endowed them to dictate which products and raw materials could be imported and how the items could be produced and sold. The guilds were also in charge of bringing new innovations to the marketplace. So, they had control over inventions, even if they did not create them themselves.

Ownership Rights

The Statute of Monopolies made it possible for inventors to retain the rights of their creations, and monopolies were no longer granted. The law also guaranteed that inventors would be given a 14-year period of exclusive rights to govern how their inventions were used. Then, in 1710, another piece of legislation, The Statute of Anne, came into being. This statute provided 14 years of protection for an inventor. It also allowed inventors to renew their protection for another 14 years. It is important to note that this statute focused on copyrights for authors so they could have power over the recreation and distribution of their work. It protected inventors and their innovations and creations as well.

Intellectual Property in the Colonies

Twelve of the original colonies established their own systems for protecting its citizens’ IP. The only colony to not participate was Delaware. It soon became evident that having individual systems for each state was not the best idea. This discovery lead to the creation of federal laws that had precedence over state laws.

Global Intellectual Property

In 1883, the Paris Convention was created. This international agreement provided protection to inventors so their innovations were safe, even if they were used in other countries. Then, in 1886, the Berne Convention was initiated to provide international protection of all forms of writing, including songs, drawings, operas, sculptures and paintings. In 1891, trademarks gained wider protection with the establishment of the Madrid Agreement. Eventually, the offices that were created by the Paris and Berne Conventions combined to create the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual Property, which eventually became the current-day World Intellectual Property Organization, an office of the United Nations.

History of Copyright Law

Formal copyright laws began in the United States in 1790 with the introduction of the federal copyright law. This law established a 14-year period in which inventors and other creators had eminent rights to their creations. If, at the end of that time, the holder of the copyright was still alive, those rights extended another 14 years. Over the following 200 years, additional time was added to extend the copyright period. Currently, copyrights last for the inventor’s lifetime, plus an additional 70 years. The scope of the copyright law has also expanded over time. The law currently covers photographs and musical recordings, as well as written materials.

History of Patents

During the 18th century, it started to become obvious that industrial inventions needed to be protected. This idea gave birth to patent laws. It took close to 100 years before patents began to be taken seriously. However, it was still difficult to be awarded a patent, as the decision was left mostly to the individual interpretations of patent officials and judges. By the mid-20th century, that changed, and there was a dramatic shift in favor of the inventors.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of intellectual property, contact us today.

About the Author

I’m a lawyer and entrepreneur based in Washington, DC. My legal practice focuses on helping innovators, entrepreneurs, and startups navigate intellectual property issues. My books about IP Law are available for sale on Amazon.

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