- "Ingegnosi artificij." Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia: Trecento anni di storia della scienza, della tecnica e dell'innovazione (1474–1788). ["Ingenious artifices." The most serene Republic of Venice: Three hundred years of history of science, technology and innovation (1474–1788)] by Roberto Berveglieri
The Venetian Republic's pioneering role in the establishment of patent law is now widely recognized. Although earlier monopolies had already been granted for technological inventions, the system became enshrined in law in 1474 when the Venetian Senate enacted Europe's first intellectual property legislation. The procedure remained in place for more than three centuries, lasting until the Fall of the Republic in 1797—although records for the final decade are missing. Nevertheless, the Venetian Republic was not the only European government to grant such privileges, and inventors from outside the Veneto often applied to several different states. Numerous authors have made reference to the Senate's patent applications, although few have examined the records as thoroughly as Berveglieri. Luca Molà's index of the patents relating to silk technology in The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice (not cited in the bibliography of the present work) remains an important resource.
This book reflects the author's enduring fascination with Venetian patents—brevetti, known at the time as privilegi or gratie/grazie—an interest traceable to his youthful collaboration with the late Carlo Poni, to whose memory the work is dedicated. Berveglieri has spent decades recording these applications and has already published a number of works on the subject, in particular his Inventori stranieri a Venezia (1995). The present title is the first volume of a complete compilation of all the patents issued by the Senate; it includes those granted up to 1699. The numerous subsequent applications made in the eighteenth century are not published here, although the author discusses this later period in the introductory chapters. Presumably these will form the subject of volume 2.
The opening section of the book explains the procedures of the Venetian Senate in granting rights to inventors. On the one hand, the Republic wanted to foster technological progress, while on the other, it operated on a system of laisser faire, giving monopolies to encourage independent entrepreneurs. Rights were granted for a limited time, usually between ten and twenty-five years, and only applied within Venetian territory. A useful table charts the geographical origins of the inventors at different dates (p. 41). Another enumerates the different types of inventions by date: the most frequent were mills of various kinds, innovations in the manufacture and dying of textiles, methods of artillery production, and dredging machinery (pp. 42–43). [End Page 250]
The ways of demonstrating a new invention varied. Out of the total of 2,130 applications Berveglieri examined, only 83 petitioners provided models—70 of these in the sixteenth century—and fewer still supplied drawings (p. 46). Others demonstrated the process in action, but more commonly a verbal description had to suffice. A privilegio might be granted on condition that the invention could be put into effect within a limited time, such as six months, but unless an extension was needed, no further records have survived. Often the applicant lacked the capital resources to build the promised machinery. The author recognizes the frustration in this line of research: the outcomes of successful applications for patents were rarely documented and almost no surviving records refer to claims made by patent-holders against imitators or counterfeiters. Berveglieri has arranged his compilation of privilegi in chronological order, headed by the name of the applicant. Each petition was initially made to the magistracy known as the Provveditori di Comun, who usually passed it on to other relevant government magistracies for their opinions on the importance and novelty of the new technology. If a privilegio of more than ten years was sought, the application was then presented to the Senate for approval. Berveglieri...