Patents existed before the United States came around. Countries like England, under the Crown, and France, as well, issued patents to inventors. But, in those countries, these were privileges — royal privileges — bestowed by the Crown upon their subjects. And, so, they were very expensive and there was extensive bureaucratic processes. They were, also, kind of administered through the royal prerogative courts and bureaucratic apparatuses that existed at that time. The Americans recognized that that’s not how you should create a new, thriving, free society. It’s not going to be based upon aristocracy. It’s not going to be based upon the existing wealthy. It’s going to be based upon the creation of new wealth and, in fact, interestingly enough, it’s the only place in the Constitution proper — the document that was written in 1787, before the Bill of Rights — where the word “right” is even used. And, so, they took the approach that patents should be property rights, just like a property right in a house or in a farm. Just in the same way that anyone could be a farmer, through The Homestead Acts, in which we, you know, created the vast production
of new agricultural food in this country. And, so, they immediately made them accessible, cheap, and easy to apply for — just like all other property rights. Economists have called this the democratization of invention and the United States was the pioneer in this. In fact, creative works and inventions were some of the very first national products: Webster’s American Dictionary and the steamboats went between the states. And, so, the American Founding Fathers recognized that if you’re going to have an innovation economy, if you’re going to have a flourishing society where the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were realized for all people, that they had to authorize in the Constitution that Congress would protect patents and copyrights. It’s some of the very first legislation they enacted in 1790 and the rest is history, so to speak.