Ted Sichelman and Sean O'Connor, Patents as Promoters of Competition: The Guild Origins of Patent Law in the Venetian Republic, 49 San Diego L. Rev. 1267 (2012), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/201
San Diego Law Review
Part II of this Article describes the artisan and merchant guild systems of the Venetian Republic. Part III explores the emergence of the patent system as a means for foreigners and Venetian citizens to compete with the guilds, as well as the eventual addition of negative exclusive rights to the basic license form of positive patent privileges. In so doing, contrary to the speculation of some scholars, we reject with near certainty the contention that the first patent law statute granting exclusionary rights for—in modern parlance—technological inventions was a silk-specific directive enacted by the Venetian Grand Council in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century.
Rather, the first record of a patent grant with exclusionary rights for such inventions is one by the Venetian Senate in 1416, and the first patent law statute was the Venetian Patent Act of 1474 (the 1474 Act).
Part IV then considers the ramifications of patenting against the backdrop of a regulated economy. First, it explains how the evolution of patent laws in the West likely depended on the migration of the patent system from the highly regulated economy of Venice to less regulated economies in Europe. Second, it provides some reflections and lessons for the role of patents in today’s economy, showing that—like in the days of the Venetian Republic—patents can still function to promote competition.