A Politics of Intellectual Property: The French Revolution and the Creation of a Patent System

Our understanding of the rise of intellectual property has been highly influenced by the tools and concepts of economic history and the lens of the Industrial Revolution. Looking at the case of France, this article examines the cultural and ideological origins of the 1791 patent law, which is usually seen to have marked the birth of a modern patent system in France. Although calls to reform the privileges of invention of the Old Regime were increasingly frequent as the eighteenth century wore on, only the French Revolution provided the impetus and the ideological resources necessary for such a transformation. The revolutionaries did more than just adopt the procedures of English legislation, such as replacing prior examination with a registration system. The new patents ('brevets d'invention') reflected the Revolution's image of the ideal society--a society built on natural rights, property, and the social contract, and made of rational inventors and an enlightened public. In France, intellectual property was the child of a political revolution rather than industrial capitalism.

Published in:
Technology & Culture
Jul 01 2020
Please contact the author (jerome.baudry@epfl.ch) for the postprint (accepted version) of the article.

 Record created 2019-10-02, last modified 2019-12-05

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