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History of the patent system

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Patents have been around for centuries, also in the Netherlands. A bird's-eye view.

In 600 BC, patents were granted for culinary dishes in the Greek colony of Sybaris, in the south of Italy. These certainly must have been delicious dishes. Some time passed before we heard about patents again in the course of history. An organised grant procedure did not take place until 1474. At that time, the city of Venice had a bye-law that promised a ten-year privilege to 'All inventors of new arts and machines'.

From 1589 onwards, 'patents for inventions' were being granted and recorded in the deed books of the States General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. 'Patents for trademarks and manufacturers' trademarks' also existed, such as the right to sell brooches on a green piece of paper with the image of an angel.

New, inventive and applicable

In order to obtain a patent for an invention, it was important that this invention was a new one. The invention may have already been seen in another country, but this was acceptable if a new industry could be established on the basis of this invention in the Netherlands, such as for the production of macaroni.

Another requirement was that the invention could be applied in practice, and a period of approximately 1 year was allowed for this. Once this year had passed the invention became public; a concept that still applies to 'patents for inventions'. Counterfeiting (misuse of the right) was a punishable offence, and a patent could also be declared void.

There was a certain arbitrariness as to the duration of a patent's validity: it could be 2 years, or 15 years, sometimes even 50 years. Expired patents could often be renewed. The criteria and costs for extending patents varied, depending upon the granting authorities, from sovereigns to public bodies.

The First Patent Act

In 1817, the first Patent Act came into force in the Netherlands. This Patent Act stipulated that patents could be valid for 5, 10 or 15 years. The considerable fees involved could rise to 750 guilders. Complete descriptions of the invention had to be filed. These became public when the applicant came to 'collect' the patent, meaning the applicant made his/her payment and received a certified copy of the patent. In 1869, the Act was abolished and the Netherlands acquired the image of a free-spirited nation.

International collaboration

The end of the 19th century was dominated by industrialisation and international collaboration. In 1883, representatives of over 140 countries met in Paris trying to compare the national acts concerning industrial property (patents, trademark and designs) and to achieve uniformity between them. In the famous Paris Convention of that year, it was agreed that all signatory countries should recognise the priority right.

Later, international agreements were made with regard to the protection of Intellectual Property and works of literature and art. This took place at the Berne Convention in 1886.

Patent Act 1910 and European Patent Convention

The Netherlands was one of the participating countries in the Union of Paris and the Berne Convention. However, a new patent act did not enter into force until 1910. From 1912 onwards, the year from which the patents were being granted, the number of patent applications steadily increased. In the 1960s and 1970s, the number of patent applications was between 14 - 18.000. In 1973, 15 countries signed the European Patent Convention. Two years later, an inventor or a manufacturer was able to file a single application and obtain a patent for 17 countries. As a consequence, the numbers of Dutch initial applications decreased spectacularly.

Patents Act 1995

In 1995, this decrease led to a new act, the Patent Act 1995, which was amended in 2008. For more information, see chapter Patent Act 1995.

The Unitary Patent

On February 19th, 2013, the Convention on a Unified Patent Court was signed by the ministers in Brussels. This is one of the crucial final steps for the creation of a Unified Patent Court in Europe.

The judgments of the new Unified Patent Court about infringement or nullification of European patents, will soon apply to all 26 EU Member States (except Spain). Hereby the current practice of parallel processes in different European countries on exactly the same European patent - with sometimes contradictory results - will be prevented in the future.
With the arrival of the Unified Patent Court one can also apply for unitary patent protection for European patents. For inventors this means a substantial simplification.

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