International Diversity in Patent Cultures- A Historical Perspective

May 15-16, 2014, University of Leeds

A two day workshop at University of Leeds (15-16 May 2014) exploring diversity among patent systems.

International diversity among patent systems has been familiar to historians since at least Edith Tilton Penrose’s classic The Economics of the International Patent System (1951). While some nations, e.g. the USA, permitted great liberality in what could be patented and how patents could be used, many European nations prohibited the patenting of medicines and weaponry (among much else) and imposed strict conditions on patentees’ exercise of their rights. The variety of patent systems across the globe was not dissolved by the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. Indeed as Rajesh Sagar and Tshimanga Kongolo have shown, imperial regimes typically imposed their distinctive patent systems on colonies; this in turn generated further diversity e.g. the hybrid and variant forms adopted in parts of the British Empire. By contrast, other nations resisted pressure to institute patent systems well into the twentieth century, adopting other approaches to the management of invention.

This workshop explores the factors underlying such diversity and how it was managed, challenged, and in some respects harmonized by the mid 20th century.

A limited number of additional places are available at this workshop.

Call for papers

If you wish to participate, please send a paper proposal (300 words maximum) to Graeme Gooday by Tuesday 25th February.

Your proposal should address at least one of the following themes:

i) 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? In what ways and to what extent did the forces of imperialism in mould 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?

ii) 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?

iii) 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?

Deadline: February 25, 2014

Posted: February 17, 2014