As most Kat readers will likely recall from their schoolboy (or girl) history classes, the 16th century marked the dawn of the great explorations by European adventurers journeying both east and west. While Columbus is iconic in this regard, it was the Portuguese, embodied in the figure of Prince Henry the Navigator, and Spain, that were the first national pioneers, especially for mercantilist purposes and particularly to Asia. There then arose the great conflict between the European north, especially England and Holland, and the European south, especially Spain and Portugal. As observed by Stanley Wolpert in his well-known panorama of the history of India, A New History of India,
“…Dutch as well as English sea captains hoisted sail to join the race around the Cape of Good Hope. For the Dutch, the attack against Catholic Spain’s eastern monopoly was no less than a national movement.”As a result, Holland became perhaps the centre for cartographic activity, as maps were fundamental to the success of these sea captains’ efforts.
Central to Portuguese wayfaring and exploration was their presence on the southwest shore of the Indian subcontinent at the port of Goa, which served as Portugal’s de facto capital in the east (Kat parents, such as I, are well aware of the 21st century Goa as a preferred destination of our back-packing children, but that is a different story.) The Portuguese prided themselves for their knowledge of sea routes and the coastal landscape. Crucial to these mercantilist efforts were certain national “trade secrets” and no secret was more important to maintain their seafaring monopoly to Asia than their maps, meticulously prepared and even more carefully guarded from disclosure to their emerging rivals in northern Europe.
“with priceless information about India … plus priceless Portuguese navigation maps of the Indian Ocean, which taught the Dutch how to use the monsoon winds to their best advantage.”Linschoten relied on these maps as the foundation for his own maps, which became an integral part of his book, Itinerario. As described on cartographic-images. net, here,
“[w]hile based primarily on Portuguese portolan [nautical] charts, Linschoten also drew on the cartographic work of Plancius. Southeast Asia and Japan are based on the cartography of Fernão Vaz Dourado, and China on the map of Barbuda (#410H). The Philippine Islands are drawn from de Lasso with the curious orientation of Palawan.”
A great tale, for sure, even if Linschoten has largely been forgotten, while raising, as it does, several interesting IP aspects. First there is the role of trade secrets in the service of national goals, where 16th century mercantilism wedded interests of security with matters of state commerce. It will be hard to find a better example of this marriage of security and commerce and, while the circumstances of those days may differ from our own times, there is a striking similarity between then and now. Trade secrets are and have been the best and worst of IP protection; “protection” lasts forever or it is lost to the public domain in a moment. That is true for a trade secret in Silicon Valley or New York, but it was equally true for Goa and points east at the end of the 16th century.
The upshot is that while the field of cartography has long significantly improved on the contents of the subject-matter covered by Linschoen’s maps, the issues of trade secrets and how to protect the contents of maps are still very much with this.