On this day in 1790, Samuel Hopkins of Vermont in the United States of America was granted the first patent under the U.S. Patent Act, 1790 for a new apparatus and process of making pot ash and pearl ash. The certificate registering the patent was signed by President George Washington, Attorney General Edmund Randolph, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.
(Above: Randolph, Washington, and Jefferson)
But was this the world’s first patent?
Patents have been traced back to some ancient Greek cities in 500 B.C. where something similar was given to chefs.
The world’s first recorded patent registration however, was a three-year patent granted in 1421 to Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi (left) for an improved method of transporting goods up and down the river Arno in Florence, a notoriously tricky business.
Compared to modern day patents and disclosure norms in the process of patent registration, Brunelleschi’s patent document is vague about the nature of the invention. The architect of the magnificent dome of the city’s cathedral was so revered that he had enough clout to strike a deal on his own terms. One of his main terms was that he would only reveal the details of his brainchild once he had been granted a three-year monopoly.
John of Utynam, a Belgian glass-maker from Flanders in Belgium was granted the first known English patent in 1449 by King Henry VI for a period of twenty years (quite a contrast from Brunelleschi’s patent term) to make stained glass windows for Eton College.
The first North American patent grant was in 1641 to Samuel Winslow by the Massachusetts General Court for a new process for making salt.
India’s first patent law was enacted in 1856. The act was modelled on the lines of British Patent Law of 1852. Patent terms lasted fourteen years. The first patent in India under the 1856 law was granted to George Alfred DePenning (left, above) for a device that he called, “An Efficient Punkah-Pulling Machine”. In the same year, Mr. DePenning launched his firm of intellectual property attorneys, which continues to offer services to this day.
(Samar Jha is part of the faculty on myLaw.net.)