27 March, 2013

Retrospective - Where it all began

The history of IP law is a colorful one. The changes it has undergone and how the rapid evolution of both the creation and sharing of ideas and expression has made the landscape where the law operates very different to what it was when it all started.

Copyright

Queen Anne was a fan of books, and a snappy dresser
Great Britain was the first nation to enact a law which regulated copyright, instead of it being handled by the parties involved without any government interference, mainly the Stationers' Company. The law in question was the Statute of Anne 1710. The law sought to encourage learning and advance it through the limitation of certain rights in books, ones which echo even today's legislation, although very faintly: it gave the rights to print and copy published material to its creators, not the publishers of the books. This was a significant move from a system that lasted for almost 50 years. Copyright didn't exist automatically in any works, unlike like today, but all works needed to be registered for any rights to exist in that material. The Statute of Anne was a major piece of legislation until its repeal through the Copyright Act 1842, lasting for well over 100 years. The Americans largely followed the Statute, although it is still disputed whether they actually did. This lasted till the enactment of the US Constitution.

Patents

Most of the Commonwealth countries have their patents laws base on the Statute of Monopolies 1623. It is seen as the first real law dealing with patents, both in the United Kingdom, and through it subsequently adopted in one form or another in its former colonies. It both abolished old patents existing before the law, during and in the future. It also restricted the application of patents and set strict limits to who can give them. The Statute was a major change, and is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of patents. The US, yet again not wanting to conform, did not follow the Statute of Monopolies as such, however their use of patents in commerce is believed to have stemmed from the law. The US Constitution set out broad principles for all IP matters, which also dealt with patents, however more specific legislation was enacted both in individuals States, and finally on a Federal level in 1790. Patents have since gotten more specific and complex, yet the heart of the original laws still remain.

Trade Marks

A relatively late bloomer in the sphere of IP legislation, trade marks did not have any codified protection until the Merchandise Marks Act in 1862. The old law, much like copyright and patents, also echoes the sentiment of current legislation, although speaking of "defrauding", which is not used in today's laws. The United States, much like the UK and its colonies, protected trade marks through the common law (meaning no laws protected them specifically, but unwritten customs and precedent), until the enactment of the Trademark Act 1881

Designs

The first instance of designs protection was in the UK, with the enactment of the Designing and Printing of Linen Act in 1787. The Act, as its name so implies, dealt with the designs related to a number of different fabrics, and only offered protection for a measly two months after printing. The Act was expanded on almost 50 years later, in the Copyright and Design Act 1839, taking designs protection further than the textile industry alone, and introduced a system of registration for designs.

As you can see, the roots of IP law are deep in all common law countries. What it was a few centuries ago can still be seen in today's laws, and the impact their development has had, and continues to have, on people and their expression is profound. Most of them were protected well before the enactment of specific laws relating to them through the common law, so their roots go even further if you go beyond laws alone. 

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