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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.
The Evolution of Intellectual Property
November 11, 2015

The origins of Intellectual Property

The history of intellectual property is complex and fascinating. It begins in 500
BCE when Sybaris, a Greek state, made it possible for citizens to obtain a one
year patent for "any new refinement in luxury." Patent, trademark and copyright
laws have become more complicated in the ensuing centuries but the intent
remains the same. Countries establish intellectual property laws to foster
creativity and to make it possible for the inventor to reap the benefits of their

Mentions of copyrights, patents and other matters of intellectual property law are
sparse in early history. It is not until medieval Europe that some major and well-
known legislation was passed. The first of these was the Statute of Monopolies.
This British law was established in 1623. At the time, all major industries were
controlled by guilds. Each guild held considerable power, with the government
endowing them with the ability to dictate what products and raw materials could
be imported as well as how those items would be produced and sold. Moreover,
the guilds were responsible for bringing all new innovations to the marketplace,
essentially giving them ownership and control over inventions even if they had
nothing to do with their creation.

Ownership Rights
The Statute of Monopolies changed that by allowing the author or inventor to
retain their ownership rights. Monopolies, in the form of government-sanctioned
guilds, were no longer granted. The law also guaranteed the inventor a 14 year
period during which he had the exclusive right to govern how his invention was

Other significant legislation came in 1710 with the Statute of Anne. This law
similarly provided a 14 year term of protection. It also gave inventor the option of
seeking a 14 year renewal term. Aimed largely at copyrights, this law granted
authors rights in the recreation and distribution of their work.

Intellectual Property in colonial US

Shortly after the U.S. broke away from Great Britain, most of the 13 colonies had
established its own system for intellectual property protection. The one exception
to this was Delaware. However, it was soon apparent that having each state
operate its own system of intellectual property protection was problematic,
leading to the establishment of federal laws that had precedence over any state

Global Intellectual Property

In 1883, the Paris Convention came into being. It was an international agreement
through which inventors could protect their innovations even if they were being
used in other countries. Writers came together in 1886 for the Berne Convention
which led to protection on an international level for all forms of written expression
as well as songs, drawings, operas, sculptures, paintings and more. Trademarks
began to gain wider protection in 1891 with the Madrid Agreement while the
offices created by the Paris and Berne Conventions eventually combined to
become the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual
Property, the precursor of today's World Intellectual Property Organization, which
is an office of the United Nations.

Through centuries of development and innovation, inventors and creators now

have dozens of options when it comes to protecting intellectual property.