Adoption of Intellectual Property Laws across the globe: Timeline

May 20, 2020   Ani Harutyunyan

  • Intellectual Property
  • Blog
A close up of a toy

Description automatically generated

Intellectual Property (IP) laws regulate the legal protection of intellectual property by patents, copyright, trademarks, design rights and trade secrets, which enable creators and inventors to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create.  

Here I present the timeline of the adoption of IP laws across the world in three phases:  

17-18th centuries:  Emergence of the first IP legislation in England, and its adoption in France and the United States 

The Statute of Monopolies, passed in 1624, was an Act of the Parliament of England notable as the first statutory expression of patent law. 

In 1710, Great Britain’s parliament passed the Statute of Anne, which was the first statute to provide for copyright protection regulated by the government.  

By the time the United States declared independence from Great Britain, most of the colonies had established their systems for intellectual property protection, and in 1790 Congress passed the Patent Act, the first patent statute enacted by the federal government.   

In 1791, another major industrialized country, France, adopted legislation on patents, similar to England’s one.  

19th century:  The Introduction of IP Laws into Colonies and the Rest of Europe 

From the early 19th century onwards, the British started to introduce intellectual property protection laws in all of the colonies and territories under their rule. By 1864, seventeen British colonies had adopted patent laws, including India and New Zealand.  

In 1857, France formally extended its Revolutionary Act on author’s rights of 1793 to its colonies. French IP laws were adopted in its own colonies, and also diffused to other European countries, such as Spain, where the first patent law was decreed in 1811.  

Austria enacted its first IP law in 1810, Russia in 1812, Prussia in 1815, Belgium in 1817, Bavaria in 1825, and Sweden in 1834.  

The German Empire was founded in 1871, and in the first six years each state within the empire adopted its own IP policies, leading to the passing of a unified national Patent Act in 1877.  

Netherlands adopted IP laws in 1817; however, the anti-patent movement, which focused on the importance of free trade, succeeded in abolishing this law in 1869.  

Switzerland did not grant IP protection until being subject to multiple international pressures to adopt measures to recognize IP rights in 1883.  

In 1883, the Paris Convention was signed by 11 countries (Belgium, Brazil, France, Guatemala, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, El Salvador, Serbia, Spain and Switzerland), as an international agreement through which inventors could protect their innovations even if they were being used in other countries.  

In 1886, following in the footsteps of the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention was accepted as an international agreement governing copyright. It was signed by Belgium, France, Germany, Haiti, Italy, Liberia, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom, and also covered their colonial territories throughout the world.  

In order to administer these two Conventions, the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual Property (BIRPI) was established in 1893.  

20th century:  The Era of Global IP Laws  

With the independence of the former colonies, the colonial IP system was on the verge of collapse, since the newly independent states had the right to withdraw from the unions formed by the Paris and Berne conventions. Nevertheless, most of them did not. After decolonization, only four newly independent countries exited the Berne Convention, namely Indonesia in 1960, Syria in 1962, Upper Volta in 1969, and Mauritius in 1971.  

During the 1960s the rest of the African post-colonial countries formally acceded to or declared the uninterrupted continuity of their colonial obligations under the Paris and Berne conventions. The BIRPI established two regional IP offices for West African (mostly francophone) countries in 1962 and East African (mostly anglophone) countries in 1976, granting unified patents and other industrial property rights for a total of 33 countries.  

In 1970, the BIRPI changed its name to the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), which became an intergovernmental organization, and three years later WIPO joined the United Nations, as a specialized agency.  

In 1995, the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement came into force by the World Trade Organization (WTO), introducing IP laws into the multilateral trading system. It is a binding agreement for all 153 WTO members.  

21st century:  We will See 

Although IP law is a distinctively Western, modern, and relatively young body of law, it has rapidly spread all over the world largely due to colonization and the introduction of international agreements. 


Bently, Lionel (2011), The “extraordinary multiplicity” of intellectual property laws in the British colonies in the Nineteenth century, Theoretical Inquiries in Law, Vol. 12, p. 161-200. 

Galvez-Behar, G. (2019). The Patent System during the French Industrial Revolution: institutional change and economic effects. Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte/Economic History Yearbook, 60(1), 31-56. 

Khan, B. Z. (2001). Innovations in Intellectual Property Systems and Economic Development. Yale University: New Haven.  

Machlup, F., & Penrose, E. (1950). The patent controversy in the nineteenth century. The Journal of Economic History, 10(1), 1-29. 

Peukert, A. (2012). The colonial legacy of the international copyright system. Staging the Immaterial. Rights, Style and Performance in Sub-Saharan Africa, Oxford: Sean Kingston

WIPO – World Intellectual Property Organization,