Statute of Monopolies, The

Usually described as one of the first modern patent laws, was “[a]n Act concerning Monopolies and Dispensations with Penal Laws, and the Forfeitures thereof” dated 1623 (21 Jac. 1, c. 3). Prior to the Statute of Monopolies, patents in England had been monopolies of products sold by the government to raise revenue or given to court favorites. The system had come to be seriously abused, particularly by Elizabeth I, who was often chronically short of funds, with patents (which then meant monopolies) being granted on items ranging from salt to playing cards and the patent holders being granted extraordinary powers to enforce those rights.

The Statute of Monopolies reformed the patent system, adopting the continental or “Venetian” system of only granting patents for inventions (including newly-imported technology.) The Statute of Monopolies is often inaccurately, described as the first modern patent law, notwithstanding the existence of earlier such laws, for example the Decree of 1474 on the Protection of Inventions in the Republic of Venice, whose principles it largely copied.

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