Understanding Intellectual Property: A Brief History.

The origins of Intellectual Property all the way back to 500 BCE.

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6 min readMay 23, 2023


The complex and fascinating history of Intellectual property (IP) arguably began way back in the 6th Century BC, at the time when it became possible for citizens to obtain a one-year patent for “any new refinement in luxury” a period within which the profits arising were secured to the inventor of the patent.

Various writings indicate that, in an ancient Greek state called Sybaris, located in what is now southern Italy (situated on the Gulf of Tarentum, near present Corigliano, Italy), bakers were granted a year-long monopoly on the production of a particular type of bread while authors in the roman empire, were granted the exclusive right to publish their works for a period of 50 years.

There are conflicting stories about the 1st ever granted patents but records show, “the first known patent” was granted in 1421 to an Italian inventor named Giovanni de’ Dondi but also “the first recorded patent for an industrial invention” was granted to the architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi in Florence, also in1421(The patent gave him a three-year monopoly on the manufacture of a barge with hoisting gear used to transport marble.)

Patent, trademark, and copyright laws have become more complicated in the ensuing centuries given their broad coverage now but the intent has almost remained the same.

What is Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property (IP) refers to creative works or intangible creations of the human intellect or inventions that are a result of an individual’s original creativity (the creations of one’s creative mind) for which legal rights arise or are granted. An idea in someone’s mind is not intellectual property.

Tracing the Roots of Intellectual Property

The beginning.

The first formal patent legal institutions were developed in the Republic of Venice in the mid-1400s. In fact, the history of patents and patent law is generally considered to have started with the Venetian Statute of 1474.

The Venetian Statute of 1474 decreed that the inventors of new and useful devices would be protected from infringers and copiers for ten years so long as they disclosed the details of their inventions.

Most Venetian patents were granted in the field of glass making, and when these glass makers emigrated to other countries in Europe, they sought similar protections from the local authorities. This is how the notion of patent rights, and their expression in patent legal systems, began to spread and gain acceptance throughout Europe.

The 16th Century

European countries made several other important innovations in their early patent systems. In the mid-1500s, France became the first to publish patent descriptions from inventors who chose to submit them.

English and French monarchs also used patents to stimulate invention and grant exclusive trade monopolies to those favoured by the court.

In the reign of Elizabeth I in the late1500s, patent monopolies were granted for trading in staples such as salt, soap, starch, iron, and paper which to favoured monopolists, enriching them while robbing the community which neither stimulated industrial growth nor facilitating new technological developments.

The 17th Century

The modern concept of Intellectual Property (IP) did not emerge until the 17th century, due to public outcry, when Elizabeth’s successor James I was forced to revoke these grants of trade monopolies in 1610.

And in 1624, the English Parliament passed the Statute of Monopolies, limiting the ability of the monarch to grant monopolies to select/favoured individuals or companies. The Statute formally repealed the practice and henceforth restricted patent rights solely to new inventions which allowed inventors to freely market their inventions without fear of government interference.

This was the first step towards the development of modern Intellectual Property law as it recognized that ideas and inventions could be owned by individuals. Henceforth, countries began establishing intellectual property laws to foster creativity and to make it possible for the inventor to reap the benefits of their ingenuity.

The 18th Century

During this period, the United States and France adopted patent and copyright laws. These laws were designed to encourage creativity and innovation by giving creators the exclusive right to use their inventions and work for a certain period of time.

England under the reign of Queen Anne (1702–1714) was the first to require inventors to submit a written description of their patent to “describe and ascertain the nature of the invention and the manner in which it is to be performed.

In 1710, the British Parliament passed the Statute of Anne, which established the first copyright law in the world. The Statute of Anne granted authors the exclusive right to print and publish their works for a period of 14 years. This law was later adopted by other countries and is considered to be the foundation of modern copyright law.

In 1729, France began to publish abbreviated digests of patent descriptions, but these were intermittent and subject to delays of up to 60 years after the patents were originally granted. As might be expected, this lack of regularity limited the technological knowledge sharing which is one of the great benefits of a patent system.

In 1790, the United States enacted the first federal copyright law. Modelled off Britain’s The Statute of Anne, this new law was relatively limited in scope, protecting books, maps, and charts and granted authors the exclusive right to publish their works for a period of fourteen(14) years with a renewal period of another 14 years. The law was later extended to include other forms of creative expression, such as music and art.

The 19th Century

There was a growing recognition of the importance of protecting Intellectual Property (IP) which led to the development of new forms of IP, such as patents and trademarks. Thus, the world’s two main IP treaties were adopted: the Paris Convention (1883) for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Convention (1886) for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

These treaties have been ratified by over 180 countries and form the basis of modern IP law.

  • In 1883, the world’s first international IP convention was held in Paris and the Paris Convention was adopted, to facilitate the protection of Industrial Property.
  • In 1886, The Berne Convention was adopted, at an international assembly held in the Swiss city of Bern by ten European countries with the goal to agree on a set of legal principles for the protection of original work.

The 20th Century, To date

In the 20th century, IP law continued to develop and in 1967, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was established, an international organization that promotes the protection of IP around the world.

And in 1994, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was adopted. It is a multilateral agreement that sets minimum standards for IP protection in all member countries, administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO). TRIPS has been credited with helping to boost economic growth and innovation in developing countries.

Today, Intellectual Property Management, a complex and ever-evolving field is an important part of the global economy because IP-protected products and services account for a significant share of global trade.

There are several different types of intellectual Property (IP), including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets and therefore, IP protection is seen as a key driver of economic growth and innovation.

As a result, IP law is constantly being updated to reflect the changing needs of society.


The history of Intellectual property (IP) is long and complex, however, it is clear that IP rights play an important role in encouraging creativity and innovation which is important for economic growth.

As new technologies are constantly being developed, and new challenges to IP rights are emerging. IP law is becoming very important in intellectual Property management and by protecting the rights of creators, IP law helps to ensure that the benefits of new ideas and inventions are shared with society as a whole in the long run while also rewarding the creators/owners.

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