Invention through the ages
Draft of 2006.09.20 ☛ 2015.07.01 ☛ 2017.07.17
Such scholars as Max Weber and Douglass North have suggested that intellectual property systems had an important impact on the course of economic development. However, questions from other eras are still current today, ranging from whether patents and copyrights constitute optimal policies toward intellectual inventions and their philosophical rationale to the growing concerns of international political economy. Throughout their history, patent and copyright regimes have confronted and accommodated technological innovations that were no less significant and contentious for their time than those of the twenty-first century. An economist from the nineteenth century would have been equally familiar with considerations about whether uniformity in intellectual property rights across countries harmed or benefited global welfare and whether piracy might be to the advantage of developing countries. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in particular witnessed considerable variation in the intellectual property policies that individual countries implemented, and this allows economic historians to determine the consequences of different rules and standards.
This article outlines crucial developments in the patent policies of Europe, the United States, and follower countries. The final section discusses the harmonization of international patent laws that occurred after the middle of the nineteenth century.