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Between mercantilism and market: privileges for invention in early modern Europe


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    This paper aims at offering a reconstruction of the salient features of the most important formal institution introduced by European states in the Early Modern Period with the aim of recognizing and protecting the intellectual property of the inventors. Such institutions went under different names Privilegio in Venice, Patent in England, Privil ge in France, Cedula de privilegio de inven ion in Spain and, in general, took the form of the concession of a special prerogative to the inventor by the sovereign or the republic, by virtue of which he could exploit, in economic terms, his own invention through holding a monopoly. The article starts with the origins of the privileges for invention, of which the first examples are to be found in the Middle Ages, but whose official genesis is commonly identified with the Venetian law of 1474. The fundamental characteristics of the Venetian system, which was later imitated by other European states, are analysed. In the following section, the adoption of this model by those other states Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands is illustrated. In fact, the majority of these would make legislation on intellectual property an instrument of mercantilist policy, under the same conditions as prevailed in Venice. Further, we will examine some of the opportunities that the diffusion of these measures offered to those involved and the way in which they as craftsmen, merchants, and speculators took advantage of the business of privileges. Finally, before concluding, some thoughts on the changes made in the policy of privileges given the transformations that took place in the course of the eighteenth century, in order to understand the adaptive capacity of these institutions.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal Journal of Institutional Economics.

    Volume (Year): 2 (2006)
    Issue (Month): 03 (December)
    Pages: 319-338

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    Handle: RePEc:cup:jinsec:v:2:y:2006:i:03:p:319-338_00

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