It is fascinating and astonishing to discover how the sense of protection of human creativity and inventiveness had arisen since the development of civilization.
In fact, the history of Intellectual Property dates back to the 6th century BCE, from Sybaris in Ancient Greece, with the grant for chefs of a yearlong exclusivity for their culinary recipes and to the 1st century BCE during the Roman age, when Vitruvius, during a poetry competition, exposed a plagiarizing poet, who intended to pass as original a copy of a work stored in the Library of Alexandria.

Travelling through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, at around 6th century CE, the first recorded copyright battle between St. Columba and St. Finian in Ireland led to the death of 3,000 people. Columba secretly copied a plaster that Finian lent him without his permission, thus violating his “property” rights. So, Finian took the dispute to King Diarmait MacCerbhaill for arbitration, who decided in his favor, declaring the famous phrase “to every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy”.
During the Renaissance, the first recorded modern patent was granted in 1421 to the famous Italian architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi, who invented a crane system for shipping and transporting marble from the Carrara mountains for the construction of the Florence cathedral. While the first English recorded patent was granted in 1449 to John of Utynam by King Henry IV, who gave John a 20-year monopoly on producing stained glass, a technique still unknown in England.

It was throughout the Modern Age that the Statute of Monopolies – “the mother of modern patent law”- was passed by the English Parliament in 1624, to curb royal abuse of monopoly privileges, thus restricting patents for new inventions to a period of 14 years. But it was the year 1710 that marked the passage of the Statute of Anne, the first full-fledged copyright statute in the world, that granted publishers of books legal protection for 14 years and 21 years of protection for any book already in print.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the value and protection of IP rights also floated among the US Constitution. And it was in the year 1790 that the US Congress enacted the first federal patent statute and the first federal copyright legislation, granting American authors the right to print, re-print, or publish their work for a period of 14 years and to renew for another fourteen.

This short excursus of the early history of IP highlights the value that human beings had placed on the protection of their innovations and work of arts since the dawn of time. And this value led throughout the ancient world, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Modern Age to our modern understanding of IP laws and rights, aimed at guaranteeing the advancement of “science and useful arts” in the society.


Author: Eleonora Miele

Source: EUIPO website

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