Book Review: Once Upon a Time, the Patent

This Alicante-based Kat has been enjoying her sea view with a good book in paws: “Once upon a time, the patent” by Pascal Attali (2022, 304 p.). The first part of the book is devoted to the history of patent law. I will mention several interesting episodes in this connection covered in Attali’s book.

The storyline opens in the 14th-centrury Venice, where guilds are protecting their know-how through mechanisms of secrecy, which do not allow craftsmen to leave the guild (an early form of the "Hotel California"). This gradually evolves in the Venetian Patent Statute from 1474, deemed as the first known patent legislation. It granted protection to “new” devices.

Shortly thereafter, England developed a system of royal privileges, which acted as monopolies. These royal privileges/ monopolies were granted for 14 years, which constituted two cycles of training for apprentices. This meant that craftsmen would not have to compete with their own apprentices. In the 18th century, English caselaw added other well-known features of modern patent law, such as the sufficiency of disclosure.

In pre-revolutionary France, similar royal privileges were granted under the name “patente”. After 1789, the French government had to move away from all things royal, so this form of privilege was renamed “brevet”.

The US designed its current patent system after the Civil War in the 1860's (even though already in 1836 it had been the first country to introduce patent claims). In forging its system, although it took inspiration from the English system, the US decided to introduce low registration fees to make patent rights more accessible. This step, Attali believes, contributed to the post-Civil War development in the U.S.

While the Kingdom of Prussia was originally hostile to patents, it introduced exhaustive patent reform in 1877. Among the statutory innovations introduced by the law was the publication of application for opposition by third parties. Moreover, the development in the caselaw of “Erfindungshöhe” (German for “inventive height”), later became the requirement of inventive step, now part of the patent law in most jurisdictions world-wide.

The phenomenon of world exhibitions brought new problems, such as differences in patent rights for country’s nationals and foreigners. These concerns were addressed by the enactment of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. On the European continent, several were made since the World War II to create a pan-European patent right. These efforts have thus far been unsuccessful, although they can perhaps be said to have brought the European Patent Convention. The first such patent, EP 0000001, was granted in 1981 for a “thermal heat pump”.

The second part is dedicated to the author’s reflections on the future of patent law. It touches upon questions such as whether patents truly encourage innovation, how the development of artificial intelligence fits in with patents law, and whether patents help in achieving sustainable development. Attali concludes that, over the centuries, patents have demonstrated their versatility. Then, now, and presumably also in the future, they will be able to adapt so as to respond to modern-day challenges.

This book (which is also available in French) is highly recommended to professors, who prepare their patent law courses, to students, who are about to start their IP studies,, and to any IP professional, who would like to understand better the origins of patent law.

While the writing is based on impressive historical research, Attali uses semi-fictional characters and stories by Charles Dickens to illustrate important stages in the development of patent law. This makes his storytelling even more captivating. Most importantly, the book is fun and easy to read – something, which can seldomly be said about IP books.

Published: 2022
Format: Paperback
Extent: 304 pp.
ISBN: 979-8831971774
Price: 18,72 EUR
Book Review: Once Upon a Time, the Patent Book Review: Once Upon a Time, the Patent Reviewed by Anastasiia Kyrylenko on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 Rating: 5

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