Today marks the 17th annual World Intellectual Property Day. Each year, the event is celebrated with a new theme in mind, this year’s being “Innovation – Improving Lives.” Today’s fast-paced world depends on innovation to make our lives safer, healthier, more entertaining and more interesting …. and on the intellectual property that drives that innovation. Copyrights, patents and trademarks reward creators and encourage them to develop their ideas, and they also attract investors willing to take risks to produce new products and services to benefit us all.
In honor of today’s celebration, let’s look back at some moments that redefined intellectual property over the years.
The Statute of Monopolies
Known as the first piece of legislation around modern patents, this Act of the Parliament of England became law in 1624. While the idea of patents dates back to medieval Europe (and maybe even longer), “letters patent” were granted based on political, religious and economic motivations that governments and monarchies could grant to a particular merchant or craftsman to give him exclusivity in a line of business. This system enabled those in power to abuse the system to curry favor and concentrate their own power (and, in turn, the government would receive substantial royalties – enabling it to avoid having to raise taxes). In fact, Queen Elizabeth I (d. 1603) was such an abuser of this system that she even issued letters patent for common items such as salt.
With such abuses becoming a more common occurrence, things needed to change in order for the English economy to grow. What makes the English Statute of Monopolies particularly memorable in the history of intellectual property is the clearly defined parameters it established and the precedent it set moving forward. Instead of allowing the government to determine who was granted rights to a particular idea or product, the law gave the “true and first inventor” of an item of intellectual property exclusive control over his or her invention for a period of 14 years. This milestone act continued to be refined over the years, but it was the first to put a firm stake in the ground of intellectual property law as we know it today.
Founding of WIPO
The founding of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) by the United Nations in 1967 marks a milestone in the international community and its value and recognition of intellectual property.
WIPO inherited a mandate from its predecessor, the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual Property, to promote the protection of intellectual property. Through its creation, WIPO became a specialized agency of the United Nations and its responsibilities have evolved with the times. As the world grew smaller through the advent of new technologies, not only did WIPO aim to protect the interest of rightsholders but it looked to incorporate the interests of multiple parties to foster economic growth and development.
In fact, the holiday we’re celebrating with this blog post was founded by WIPO, which declared every April 26th as World Intellectual Property Day to highlight the importance of copyrights, patents, trademarks and industrial designs.
The explosion of the internet
One cannot speak about innovation and the advent of new technologies without highlighting the creation and skyrocketing growth of the internet, which has impacted almost every aspect of our lives. The ability to post, cultivate and share information so quickly on a global scale has, for some, muddied the waters in terms of copyright and other forms of intellectual property. How do you navigate a landscape that is growing faster than the laws that attempt to govern it?
In bringing awareness to the laws that govern both the traditional and modern spheres of intellectual property, information sharing can still be a fundamental aspect of science and discovery while still respecting the protections afforded to rightsholders. This very balance is what makes World Intellectual Property Day and the organizations that support it relevant and important, even in this day and age.