The Western concept of intellectual property rights (IPR) can be traced to fifteenth-century England. There, in 1449, King Henry VI awarded a patent to John of Utynam for his manufacture of stained glass, giving him a twenty-year monopoly on his methods.2 Protections of printed works, called copyrights, came two centuries later on the heels of another invention, the printing press. The 1710 Statute of Anne revoked the royal charter of the Stationers Company, which had enforced a monopoly in favor of printers and booksellers. Until then, authors could not benefit from the sales of their own work.
Patents and copyrights are the biggest players in a broad classification of IPR, which includes trade secrets (what you know: information not available to the public); trademarks and brands (what you call it: unique identifiers of products and services); industrial design (what it looks like: visual designs of objects with aesthetic or commercial value); and geographical indication (where it’s made: “Made in Germany”). For the sciences in general and life sciences especially, patents loom large.
For the purposes of this overview, let’s start with the patent—the lynchpin and driving force behind innovation and commercialization of biological inventions.
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