IP Milestones: Here's My List, What's Yours?

I was recently asked to give a Master Class (whatever that means, this Kat being far from being a master). The proposed topic was "Recent Developments in IP." With all due respect to the organizers of the class, the topic seemed a bit hackneyed and bereft of what the U.S. Supreme Court famously termed any "spark of creativity."

It occurred to me that a better way to consider recent developments was to put IP law and practice in the form of historical context (this Kat was a Medieval History major some time shortly after the end of that historical period). As so I decided to prepare a list of "IP law and practice milestones" from around 1970 to the present. The date was chosen as signalling the beginning of the rise of IP as a field of study as well as the time, more or less, that the practice of IP law began to seriously develop in law firms across various jurisdictions.

And so, please find my list, the result of several hours of thinking and rethinking about the most notable IP milestones and when, more or less, each such milestone began to take material shape. As the title of this blog indicates, this is merely one Kat's list and readers are welcome to offer their own. So let's take it away.

1. 1970s-- The rise of the PC.

2. 1975---The ascendancy of Microsoft, PC software and the network
effect, and the ultimate decline of the first incarnation of Apple.

3. 1976--The U.S. 1976 Copyright Act is enacted.

4. 1980--The rise of the importance of the role of IP in the U.S. (especially copyright and patent) in response to the perceived challenge from Japan.

5. 1980--Bayh-Dole Act ushers in new era of government-university cooperation.

6. 1980--Copyright protection is extended to computer code.

7. 1983--The U.S. Federal Circuit for patent and trademark appeals is established.

8. 1985--The globalization of IP begins to take shape (U.S. joins Berne; ratification of the TRIP's agreement).

9. 1985--The rise of the generic pharmaceutical market.

10. 1989--M&A's and the role of the super brand.

11. 1990--The open source movement goes mainstream.

12. 1992--The Feist decision in the U.S. expands the right of the public to contents.

13. 1995--The internet enters the personal household.

14. 1995--The Chinese challenge to enforcement of IP rights.

15. 1996--OHIM begins to register EU-wide trade marks.

16. 1998--WIPO Diplomatic Conference seeks to bring copyright to bear on the online world.

17. 2000--Enforcement of trade mark rights in domain name registrations becomes a cottage industry.

18. 1999-- Rembrandts in the Attic is published, draws attention to underexploited IP assets.

19. 2003-- Google becomes the search engine of choice.

20. 2005--Cloud computing goes mainstream.

21. 2005--Wikipedia and the creation of collaborative contents.

22. 2005--Social media and the recalibration between IP and secrecy/privacy.

23. 2006--The eBay decision in the U.S. declares war on the patent troll.

24. 2007--Google launches the Android open source platform for the smart-phone.

25. 2007--Apple, with its platforms and ecosystem, does it with the iPhone and does it again with the iPad.
IP Milestones: Here's My List, What's Yours? IP Milestones: Here's My List, What's Yours? Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Monday, February 07, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. The top of your list rather neatly coincides with the Unix epoch. Perhaps you're tracing a meaningful IP epoch to the same point?

  2. Well the PC did not appear before 1981, before then was the now extinct class of microcomputers. I am sure many here remember for instance numerous British microcomputers such as BBC model B, ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad series and more.

    That brings the topic to the topic of fabless designhouses selling only IP such as the highly successfull ARM. Without solid IP with patents as well as trade secrets, they would not exist.

    More importantly, where is EPO in this timeline? EPC73 and EPC2000 seem relevant.

    Other topics: patent auctioning (Ocean Tomo et al), end of US submarine patents, discussions of PCT phase 3, the telecom patents wars, US development such as State Street, KSR and more.

  3. PCT was signed summer 1970, or was that meant by "The rise of the PC[T]"?

    In the theme of rise and fall, one might note that 2009 was the first year of decline in PCT filings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_Cooperation_Treaty#Statistics

    Other interesting decisions is the US Bilski decision.

  4. EPO opens its doors in 1978? OHIM opens its doors in Alicante anyone? The Blackberry case?

    Try page 18 of http://documents.epo.org/projects/babylon/eponet.nsf/0/63A726D28B589B5BC12572DB00597683/$File/EPO_scenarios_bookmarked.pdf
    for a longer list (up to 2007)

  5. Intellectual Ventures founded in 2000.

  6. How about 1974: the start of IP?

    As in Cerf and Kahn, A protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication, IEEE Trans Comm, Vol. 22, pp 637-648.


  7. A few UK developments

    1709 Statute of Anne drawn-up to settle dispute between brewers in the Colonies and eastern Europe. Fails miserably and Bud-Budvar dispute starts.

    1949 UK Patents Act drawn up. Now known as the Old Act to most people or as the Old New Act to some of our mature readers. Brewers still fighting.

    1977 New UK Patents Act. The New Act to most people or the New New Act to the oldies. Air still redolent with mentions of "provisional applications". Brewers still fighting. Bud claims that someone bought a few bottles on an air base and so has a reputation in the UK.

    1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act. A real desk-breaker of an act. Extremely annoying transitional provisions in relation to copyright and designs which must have been written by CIPA Finals Patents Examiners.

  8. 1945/1954 - Kamil Idris is born!

  9. Apple Inc. wasn't founded until 1976, so your second point seems a little premature.

    Should there perhaps be a mention of the Human Genome Project?

    Also, I have to agree that the EPO deserves at least a passing mention.

  10. Feb 2011. The Irish EPO Hokey Pokey incident. An IP watershed.

  11. "16. 1998--WIPO Diplomatic Conference seeks to bring copyright to bear on the online world."

    Should be 1996 but who's counting.

  12. 1982: Jack Valenti tells US Congress: "I say [unto] to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."

    1984: US Supreme Court tells Jack to to jump in a lake.

  13. The list seems to be more IT than IP.

    I miss the TRIPs agreement (was that 1994?), and of course - already memorised - the start of PCT and EPC/EPO. Just before that (1967) the establishment of WIPO. Internationally seen an interesting case to have in the list is the Remington/Improver case. Another milestone are the various harmonisation attempts of the EC: trade-marks, design rights, but also the Enforcement Directive and the Biotechnology Directive.

    Can't we make a Top 100?


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