History of Patents – Phillip Vales Review Patent CEO : 1

Patent history begins as many important endeavors do with the ancient Greeks.  Sybaris, a city of ‘Magna Graecia’ or greater Greece is located in modern day southern Italy is our first stop in patenting.  Here, around the year five hundred BC rules were put into place to stimulate the discovery of refinements in luxury items; the producers of such novelties were secured a profit for a year.  A Greek rhetor Athenaeus quoted Phylarcus a writer of antiquity whose works have not survived to this day, as stating that protection was given for those who produced out of the ordinary food items.

Continuing this short survey of patent history as we proceed in the middle ages where potentates would pass monopoly laws on production of goods thereby increasing their revenue stream without raising taxes.  A form of surreptitious taxation, the letters patent, were first granted to a Mr. John Kempe in England for improving an novel industry.  However, the first modern, effective, codified and systematic legislation created to improve the technical arts was created by the Mediterranean trading state of Venice. 


Venetian Statute of 1474

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Venetian Statute of 1474

The city state located on a group of islands was at the center of trade between the Byzantine Empire, Asia, and Western Europe.  The ongoing traffic of goods and services would undoubtedly have necessitated a novel system of how to permit creative individuals to maintain the rights to their creativity instead of being overwhelmed by merchants whose lucre could easily overwhelm an inventor.  This because a merchant upon  witnessing a new invention had both the means to duplicate and market it over a wide area leaving the original developer without funds to create further improvements.  Thus, creativity would be squashed by cash and contacts.  Additionally, any legislation would have to prove that the creator of an invention would not himself or herself be overstepping the rights of others. 

Thus, the Venetians ever the practical sort enacted a system in 1474 by which their would be a requirement that the concept would never have existed before (novelty); this would protect inventors having pre-existing inventions, i.e.,  prior art owners.  Additionally, the idea must have some industrial applicability or usefulness; it could not be a work of art or literary device such as a sonnet, poem, book etcetera.  Finally, and most importantly, the grant of a letters patent had to provide a complete written description requirement thereof.  In other words, you had to explain to the public what exactly you were doing. 

About 150 years later in 1624, the English parliament passed a restrictive anti-monopoly law.  Apparently, the English monarch was used to granting favors to his friends, political allies and family members.  What favors the Parliament and its friendly merchants were going to receive is not the subject of this writing; however, that is something to think about.  In any case, in a bid to loosen the control of the royal power the Statute of Monopolies limited monopolistic grants of these types to only fourteen years.  This time limit has passed on down to the United States patent law where one type of a patent, a Design Patent, still retains this time limit.

Vive La France!

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French Patent

Some analysts believe that the British law was an attempt to help society as a whole.  However, most people in society haven’t the money, wit or persistence to make anything out of a business let alone a radically new concept.  Thus, the British law is really about the main power centers fighting over some territory; it should be understood that the Church had already been reduced to an organ of the government with the Anglican revolution and the appropriation of Church lands and control of the bishoprics.  Thus, the only real power remained in the hands of the king and the merchant class who easily overwhelmed financially strapped nobles.

In effect, this law like so many others should be viewed from the vantage point of a group of interests vying for power, in this case, the state in the person of the royal power versus the merchant and banking interest.  These last having a direct interest in seizing a new concept and merchandising it everywhere without giving due rights to inventors who worked day and night through many failed attempts to bring something wondrous to fruition.  

The French would swing the pendulum in the opposite direction in 1791, by enabling a new patent law focusing mightily on the rights of the inventor; in particular, France codified that the invention was truly the inventor’s property and others had to compensate him or her should they wish to use, manufacture or purchase it.