Economic interpretations, in particular the lens of the Industrial Revolution, have strongly influenced our understanding of the rise of intellectual property. This article examines the political origins of the 1791 patent law in France, which is usually seen as the birth of the modern patent system in that country. Although calls to reform the Old Regime's privileges of invention were increasingly frequent as the eighteenth century wore on, only the French Revolution provided 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. I argue that 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, more so than in other countries, intellectual property was the child of a political revolution rather than industrial capitalism.


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pp. 1017-1044
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