Workshop 1: International Diversity in Patent Cultures – a historical perspective

This first two-day workshop (15/16 May) will investigate an inclusive and critical historical approach to the international growth of patent systems. Inkster (2012), & Dutfield and Arapostathis (2013) have gathered together collections that indicate national diversity, and we now need to explore more systematically how and why a proliferation of national systems of patenting emerged in the nineteenth century, with some countries resisting economic pressure to set up patenting systems well into the twentieth century.  In particular, we seek to investigate:

  1.  What patterns of diversity and similarity were apparent in national patent systems in terms of what could be patented, where, by whom, on what terms, and for whose primary benefit? How important were shared political cultures, industrial imperatives, or linguistic-cultural terrain? How important were the forces of imperialism in globally moulding patent laws? Why, for example, was Britain alone in not imposing the mother country’s patent laws on its colonies, with Canada adopting a patent system that was a hybrid of American and British forms? How important were the two world wars and associated peace treaties in realigning patent laws into more convergent forms?
  2. How can we analyse the key differences between patent regimes? For example, why did so many patent systems in European countries (unlike the USA) initially resist the patenting of weaponry, food, drink, medicine, chemicals, plants, seeds and other biological components such as genes? To what extent was it only in liberal political regimes that patentability was constrained only by what was novel? What drove international harmonization on patentability: was it a convergence of independent court judgements in the states concerned or was it the economic pressure of global capitalism to broaden the scope of patent-driven commodification?
  3. Why did some countries – both within Europe and elsewhere – choose not to have patent systems until the early to mid-twentieth century (e.g. Greece), and some even later (e.g. China in 1964)? Was this a matter of active government rejection of patenting in principle (while typically not rejecting trademarks)? Or was it a sign that alternative non-proprietary approaches to creativity were preferred by governments or industry?