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Archived updates for Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Fresh Look at Early English Patents as Policy Tools

In "Patent Policy in Early Modern England: Jobs, Trade and Regulation," Chris Dent examines the patents and reported judgments of the time to show how early patents were aimed at addressing various aspects of these timeless policy concerns. While not discounting the more personal motives of the monarchs, Dent argues that the executive branch, such as it was, also tried to use patents to further the interests of the English nation:

In the times of Elizabeth and James patents may be seen as specific practices that furthered, quite deliberately, the policy goals of the elite. These goals, in turn, can be seen as the result of the circumstances of the day – the population growth, the need to be self-sufficient with respect to defence, and the limitations imposed on the forms of governance by the available technologies of communication. The understanding of the early patent system shown here goes beyond the simplistic descriptions of patent history evident in most modern texts – that the 1624 Act was a triumph of the ‘good’ Parliament against the profligate monarchs.

[However,] the nature of politics at the time, was to an extent, different to that of today. The Parliament was not clearly divisible into political parties that proposed specific and separate policies to promote the election of their representatives into the House of Commons. If the congruence of the granting of the patents and the ruling on the grants by the courts are any indication, the broad policies of the time could be more likened to specific goals shared by the elites.

The understandings shown here demonstrate a complexity of governance, an interplay of discourses and institutions of government that would not seem out of place in a twentieth-century nation-state.

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