Brief Overview: History of Patents

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The United States Patent system is one of the most successful in the world. It still takes the US Patent Office about 12 to 18 months to review a patent application after it has been filed. While waiting for your invention to be approved or rejected for a patent, you may benefit by learning how the US patent system emerged.

The first European patents were issued in the Republic of Venice in the late 15h century, but these early Venetian patents did not result in the creation of a patent system. This patent system that originated in England in the 15th century, was a 20-year monopoly given to John of Utynam for the use of a new method to make stained glass, by King Henry VI . The first patent in English history was Utynam’s and it gave inventors rights to earning from their inventions.

Later English developments formed the foundation of both present-day English and US patent laws. English royalty often used patents to grant trade and manufacturing monopolies to people who donated money to the royal treasury, and patentees could obtain monopolies for manufactures that were not new, before English Parliament passed the Statute of Monopolies law in 1624. The Monopolies Statute declared that patents could be issued solely to new inventions and stated that monopolies contradicted laws in England. The law also established time limitations to patents. The English Court made it mandatory to describe inventions in writing before being able to have their patents accepted in the 18th century. They comprise the basic principles of modern US patent law since these English patent laws were in force during the Colonial period.

Before long the legal system of the United States began, in turn, to influence British patent laws. Inventors can look to a clause in the first Article of the US Constitution, which pertains to Arts and Science, for protection in maintaining exclusive rights to their inventions. Before 1790, the English King was the lone possessor of everything the colonists invented.

The US Congress accepted the first US Patent Statute in 1790; and then in 1836 a patent law passed providing the first patent system worldwide. The principal feature of this system is that all patent applications are reviewed to ascertain that the inventions in question conform to the law and to ensure that they are new. The statute of 1836 established the US Patent Office employing expert workers to assess patent applications. Applicants were accorded the right to contest the decisions of the Patent Office and a further right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Among the many significant differences between the US Patent Law and the patent laws of England and European countries at the time was that it did not aim at exacting a price for granting patents; nor was it ever an instrument for raising revenues for the state. Patent application fees in the US were — are also — reasonably priced. These fees are only used to pay for the administrative costs of the United States Patent Office. In England, by contrast, exorbitant fees limited access to patents to a privileged few. Fees for patents covering England alone, without Scotland and Ireland, were equal to about four times per capita income in 1860. Inventors had to follow complicated administrative procedures before they could obtain patents,and patent fees were a source of revenues for the Crown and the Court.

English concerns about facing growing US competition finally introduced changes into the English patent laws. In 1851, England realized the US was a threat in regards to industrial supremacy. This realization signaled the start of a revision process that began in 1852 when Parliament approved the Patent Law Amendment Act the first real adjustment of the patent system in two centuries and lasted well into the twentieth century. Then they created the office of the commissioners of patents for Inventions obviously influenced by the US Patent law, the English patent law of 1852 lowered patent application fee.

US Patent Law was designed to encourage inventiveness. To permit the use of their inventions unlike many European countries, the United States does not require patentees. Nevertheless, although there have been many independent inventors in the United States since Samuel Hopkins received the first US patent in 1790, the most valuable patents today are owned by large corporations who have the means to exploit them.

The debate between the advantages of protecting free inventors and the disadvantages of monopoly is as important now as it was 400 years ago when the English Parliament passed the law called the Statute of Monopolies in the year 1624.

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