Intellectual Property in the WTO Volume I
Research Handbooks on the WTO series
Edited by Carlos M. Correa
Chapter 1: Why IPR Issues Were Brought to GATT: A Historical Perspective on the Origins of TRIPS
Charles Clift Introduction Intellectual property rights have been with us a long time, at least since the 15th century when the practice spread from Florence to Venice and then to other countries in Northern Europe and to North America by the 17th century. Historically, the institution of patents and copyrights as used to stimulate invention and creativity by protecting for varying lengths of time the invention or creation from imitation or copying. Typically, these rights were also used or misused as a form of patronage by the handing out of monopolies on the sale of particular products, not necessarily new inventions, to favoured individuals. In England, these rights were embodied in ‘letters patent’. The Statute of Monopolies (1623) sought to put an end to the misuse of the system by allowing the grant of a 14-year monopoly only for new inventions. As the system spread, it also became clear that the grant of patents and copyright, although national in scope, had international implications. Countries had an interest in providing rights to their own nationals while denying them to others. The USA, along with many other countries, practised such discrimination in the 19th century. Less advanced countries spent much effort fighting to acquire technology from more advanced countries, and the more advanced countries spent much effort fighting to prevent other countries acquiring their technologies – their patent and copyright laws being one weapon in their respective armouries. The need for some kind of international cooperation became evident when foreign exhibitors refused to...
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