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History of Intellectual Property Rights

written by: Vikas Vij•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 2/2/2011

It is useful to understand the history of intellectual property rights in order to appreciate their importance for sustainable economic growth and development of the global economy. Copyright laws, product patents and trademark laws are critical components of IPRs.

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    A History of IPRs

    Intellectual Property Rights It is important to understand the history of intellectual property rights in order to appreciate their full significance and value for the growth of business and industry. Intellectual property has come to be widely recognized as a critical component of global economic development. Any attempt to infringe upon these rights of an individual or an organization is considered to undermine the human ability for innovation, imagination and creativity. Global agreements such as TRIPs (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) are aimed at strengthening the era of economic progress and technological innovation.

    Photo Credit: www.sxc.hu davidlat

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    History of Copyright Law

    The formal history of IPRs in the United States began in 1790 with the establishment of the federal copyright law. The original Copyright Act established an initial copyright term of 14 years. If the owner of the copyright was still living at the end of the term, the copyright could be renewed for another 14 years. Over the period of next two centuries, the U.S. government continued to strengthen the law by adding to these time periods. In today’s time, most copyrights would last for the owner’s lifetime plus an additional 70 years.

    The scope of the copyright law expanded with the passage of time. In 1884, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that photographs could be copyrighted. Musical recordings were included under the copyright law in 1971. Thereafter, computer software was also added to the list of items that could receive protection under the copyright law. The most recent addition to this list has been architectural designs.

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    History of Product Patents

    In the 18th century, there was a growing consciousness about protecting industrial inventions and new product innovations under the patent laws. However, the patent office and courts of law in the United States began to take patent issues more seriously only in 19th and 20th centuries. However, during the 19th and early part of 20th centuries, it was still very hard to obtain a patent on a new product. Patents were subject to the individual interpretations of the patent officials and judges to a large extent. However, in the middle to later parts of the 20th century, there began a dramatic shift in favor of the the patentees.

    After World War I, the perception towards patent protection changed in a major way. The courts and the patent office became much more cautious about granting patents only to genuine cases in order to prevent anti-competitive market behavior from businesses. The fairness in the system of granting patents received more support in 1982 with the establishment of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Now any infringement of a patent or anti-competitive behavior can lead to serious damages.

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    History of the Trademark Law

    The history of intellectual property rights saw the establishment of another major milestone with the emergence of trademark law. Originally, the law stated that any insignia or logo of a company had to be accompanied by the name of the company in order to be considered for trademark protection. However, with the passage of time, the courts began to accept symbols and logos, and even arbitrary and geographical names as trademarks. Hotels, newspapers and some other service businesses, which were originally protected only against fraud, were also brought under the ambit of the trademark law. The expansion of the trademark law continued throughout the 20th century, and it is now one of the most important intellectual property rights to protect the interests of business and industry.