History of Intellectual Property or How to Remunerate Authors and Stimulate Innovation - Part 1

On 21/02/2023

"In 2019, 84% of the market value of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the United States was made up of intangible assets, amounting to over 20 trillion dollars."

Intellectual property plays a vital role in the cultural and economic life of nations. Its defense is essential to support invention, creation, and innovation, but also to ensure the fair remuneration of talents.

Its history is intertwined with the birth of the author's profession, the question of master's remuneration, the circulation of knowledge, know-how... Over time, the recognition of intellectual creation evolves, notably with printing and the rise of commerce, then with the Industrial Revolution, and finally with globalization. While throughout antiquity and the early medieval period, the focus was primarily on author compensation and the condemnation of plagiarism, from the 15th century onwards, certain privileges were granted to inventors allowing them monopolies over the use of their inventions. Importance was given to artisanal knowledge, with a desire to stimulate innovation.

1474: Law in Venice (La Parte Venezia) for inventors' privileges

"Whoever creates must register at the municipal office as soon as it is about to be used. For 10 years, it will be prohibited for any other person in any of our territories and places to copy without the consent and permission of the author."

This is the first modern law on invention patents. It relates to the attractiveness of Venice as it was a way to attract ingenious men to the city's territory.

1624: Statute of Monopolies in England

From the reign of Elizabeth, monopolies were granted by letters patent. Parliament was outraged because they were seen as clientelist privileges. Monopolies for inventions were an exception to the general prohibition of monopolies.

Parliament, therefore, passed the Statute of Monopolies in 1624 to prevent these abuses and declared null and void any new monopoly, except those related to a new manufacture, granted to the true and first inventor, and for a duration of 14 years.

Today, patentability has become the norm. A reversal in just a few centuries.

Copyright Act, the Statute of Anne, 1710.

Exclusive right to print one's work for the author. Copyright term set at 14 years.

Faced with imitations, there arose a desire for regulation with the introduction of a registration of designs and patterns for textiles, sculptors, engravers...

In 1711, an ordinance from the Consulate of Lyon punished the theft of designs on silks.

In 1777, Beaumarchais organized the Society of Dramatic Authors to defend against company directors who did not want to compensate authors fairly.

However, copyright and patents were subjects of intense debate. For Condorcet, property can only be material. "Property is based on the nature of the thing." He thus opposed Diderot.

On the eve of the French Revolution, privileges concerning inventions were now mostly granted to companies rather than individuals.

In the next chapter, we will look at the early deliberations in the 19th century, the first international agreements, and the evolution of Intellectual Property throughout the 20th century with the advances of research and globalization.