A Short History Of The Evolution Of Intellectual Property Rights

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The arena of Intellectual Property as we know it today has evolved through various stages to reach its modern version. This article traces its humble origins from the 6th century and the significant developments in the ensuing years that led to its latest avatar in the 21st century.  

Greece to Venice 

The first known instance of something resembling IP was the exclusive right granted to chefs in the Greek colony of Sybaris over their culinary inventions in 500 BCE. Apart from this and a few more inconspicuous incidents, there are no references to any legal authority or institutions that protected a creator’s rights in the Greek or Roman Empires.  

It is only in the Florentine Republic that a prominent case of IP surfaces next. Filippo Brunelleschi, a famous architect, was the first to receive a statute issued by the Republic of Florence that recognized the rights of authors and creators to their intellectual labor. While this was the first and last patent issued by the State due to several reasons, it was a landmark event.  

Thereafter the next instance of a permanent and lasting patent was found in the statute issued by the Venetian republic which not only recognized the rights of the inventor but also set up a mechanism to compensate for the infringement 

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The Statute Of Monopolies and Statute of Ann: England 

Medieval England seems to have drawn inspiration from the sparse events of the past to draft a full-fledged intellectual property law christened the Statute of Monopolies in 1623. It disbarred erstwhile royal monopolies except for the granting of “letter patents” to manufacturers of new inventions. 

Then came the Statute of Ann which is considered the first ever statute of modern copyright. It offered authors protection over their work for a period of 14 years and the prospect of renewal for another fourteen upon the expiry of the term.  

Paris Convention and Berne Convention 

When foreign exhibitors refused to attend the international exhibition in Vienna to showcase their inventions, for the fear of their ideas being stolen, the world felt the need to introduce an international system for protection. Thus, was born the Paris Convention (1883)- the first international step taken to protect creators and their inventions internationally.  

Then came the Berne Convention in 1886 which pledged the protection of the works of artists and authors across fields like music, poetry, painting, writing etc. With 179 states as contracting parties, it enforces countries to recognize copyrights held by citizens in any of the participating States. It has definitely proved a boon for artists and aids them in bringing their work to the international stage.  

Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is by far the most comprehensive global agreement on the protection of Intellectual Property. It lays the foundation for facilitating innovation and technology transfers on a global platform.  

The World Intellectual Property Organization 

Established in 1967, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is an agency of the United Nations that serves as a global forum for Intellectual Property. A culmination of the Paris and Berne Conventions, the primary purpose of this body is to aid in the development of an effective international IP system that fosters innovation.  

IP Laws in the USA 

Post their independence from Britain, the USA followed the laws set by the mother country till the ratification of the Constitution which endows the government with the power to “Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts but securing for limited Times to authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their Respective Writings and Discoveries” (Article 1, Section 8).  

Thereafter in 1982, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was established with nationwide jurisdiction over trademark and patent cases. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the federal agency responsible for granting US patents and registering trademarks. 

Did You Know? 

Intellectual property today spans four prominent categories of patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. All of them serve to safeguard your original idea and inventions from being copied.  

Below are some facts that offer a rare insight into IP: 

  1. Patent owners can bar others from importing their products to a country without their permission. However, the doctrine of International Exhaustion can prevent the patent owner to prevent others from importing if they have made their first global sale. This is subject to the importing country recognizing this doctrine.  
  2. Trade Dress protection can be used to protect the color of a brand’s packaging! A type of trademark, trade dress focuses on the feel or look of a product or service. It has been used by global giants like Tiffany’s and Louboutin to protect their ‘color’ from being stolen. The ‘Tiffany Blue’ and ‘Louboutin Red’ are trademark colors that cannot be copied by any other brand! 
  3. Any work made for hire is the rightful property of the employer and not the worker. If a photographer clicks pictures of an event as part of their work assignment, the copyright for the photos belongs to the magazine and not the photographer.  
  4. IP is a valuable financial asset due to the multiple benefits associated with it. It works to lure investors and gain funding for the company. IP rights are the basis of licensing agreements. There is also an emerging trend of using IP as collateral to raise finance, subject to a properly established evaluation.  


Businesses across the world rely on the enforcement of their IP rights through State provided mechanisms in order to profit from their ventures. It facilitates the flow of information, fosters creativity, and incentivizes entrepreneurs to keep pushing the boundaries of innovation. With robust mechanisms in place domestically as well as internationally, companies can now hope to safeguard their inventions and thrive in this competitive landscape.

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