Universal Origin of Intellectual Property Laws

The IP laws may seem as to be modern day laws which came up due to this new era of development and globalization, but in reality the origin of IP laws can be traced back to 600BC during the time of Ancient Greece. Here we discuss the origin and history of copyright, patent and trademarks.

Origin and History of Copyright

In early days the work of people can be traced in leaves and parchments. Romans practiced a system of dictation that allowed many copies of the same book. A system of wooden print blocks existed in China too.  But despite all this there were not too many books before 15th Century AD. There came 2 key developments in 15th Century AD, i.e.

  • The use of paper, &
  • Invention of movable printing press by Gutenberg

This resulted in printing of thousands of books and good sharing of views and information. But some of these books criticized the Church and the Monarch. This brought the concept of censorship in existence to control the critical words. While church prevented the publication of such work, monarch on the other hand brought rules to regulate the flow of information. Printers were licensed to print certain books for a fixed period not exceeding 14 years. Earliest of such privileges was granted in the city of Venice.

In England, Queen Elizabeth granted these privileges in the form of monopolies. Edward VI granted the Charter of the Stationers’ Company in 16th Century which empowered printers to govern and control the printing of books. The king exercised censorship through them and gave them power to search for illegal printers and seize, take or burn the books which were not registered with them. They create their copyright and prevented the entry of new printers and ensured monopoly. Their monopoly was ended in 1694 when the parliament didn’t renew their powers.

Subsequently, the Statute of Anne was passed by the parliament in 1709 which came into force in 1710. The statute recognized the rights of authors to print and copy their work and aimed at encouraging learning. It protected the publishers by giving protection to the work for the term of 14 years which could be extended to a second term if the author was still alive. Works prior to the commencement of the statute were given the protection of 21 years. Due to this fixed term a lot of booksellers of London were not happy and this caused the Battle of Booksellers. The reason for it was that at the end of term of protection, anyone could print those books and the same was being done by Scottish printers that affected the sale of London sellers. As a result of this London booksellers went against the Statute of Anne in the case of Donaldson vs. Beckett, demanding perpetual copyright and argued that the same was recognized under common law. The House of Lords dismissed the case and confirmed that there is no provision for perpetual copyright. This case stared the modern copyright law which resulted in Berne Convention (1886), Bureau of Protection of Intellectual Property (1893), World Intellectual Property Organization (1967), Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (1995) and WIPO Copyright Treaty (1996).

Origin and History of Patent

In 600 BC, monopoly was granted to new dishes in Greece. Gilds in Roman Empire were too granted monopoly. With the increase in trade, guilds felt the need to protect their innovations and hence the Apprenticeship Model was evolved which aimed at teaching the craft and ensuring that it remains within the guild. With the growth of their reputation, guilds brought a number of rules and restricted the members from disclosing their art to others. These early monopolies aimed at protecting communal properties rather than protecting the individual properties.

The traces of patent are found in Florence and Venice but there is ambiguity about its origin from one of these two places. In Florence, monopoly was granted to a boat-maker while Venice came up with the Patent Statute in 1474 to encourage new innovations and the infringers were to pay fine to the inventor. Alongside in England, monopolies were granted through Royal Charters and Letters Patent which were open directives granting monopoly to the individual. These letters patents can be traced back to 12th Century AD. With time guilds got exclusive rights to sell their products in particular region and hence laid down the stone for individual monopolies. With increase in competition, the monarch issues numerous privileges for the new innovations and allowed the foreign artisans to practice their art in England.

With arrival of Queen Elizabeth, these monopolies were given blatantly, even over already existing arts like salt-making, cards etc. to ensure competition and generate revenue through taxes resulting in increasing prices of goods. Subsequently there came a case namely Darcy vs. Allen, where monopoly was given to Darcy for 12 years and was extended further as a result of which there was only one manufacturer of card and it could regulate prices and bring action against other card makers. This monopoly was challenged in the Court. The decision of this case set the base for the Statute of Monopolies. Thereafter King James I considered the matter and declared the monopolies as not good for the society and in 1623, the parliament passed the Statute of Monopolies which give privileges only to the new inventions for 14 years.

Origin and History of Trademark

In Ancient Greece, symbols and marks were used on the artefacts and potteries, Egyptians used symbols on their structures and Romans used symbols on their products like bricks. In England, sword manufacturers were required to use symbols to identify the makers and to trace the defective swords. The middle ages started guild system which were concerned about counterfeits and their reputation. All the members of guild were required to use symbols as source identifiers in order to trace and punish whoever did not maintained the quality. It aimed at protection of goodwill of the guild rather than individual trader. There was harsh punishment for counterfeiters.

The further development of trademark was done by courts. In Sanford’s case, plaintiff had a mark ‘J.D.’ which had a good quality reputation and the defendant used the same mark for 2 years on low quality clothes resulting in decreased sales of the plaintiff. A claim for trespass was brought and the Court allowed plaintiff to recover damages for interfering in his property. In Sykes vs. Sykes, the defendant was accused of using the plaintiff’s mark ‘Sykes’ which dropped his sales. The Court in this case identified trademark as property. In Milington vs. Fox, the Court held that it was immaterial whether the defendant knew about the existence of the marks or not. Subsequently, statutes like Merchandise Marks Act (1862), Trademark Registration Act (1875) and Trademark Act (1905) came into existence.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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