This question stems from those that Jorge Aldo is asking.

Changing the social order of Rome was tried by many people and those people were pretty much all killed, regardless of who they were.

Various people and theories have arisen which argue that it was the British and then American patent system which caused the industrial revolution, not any basic changes in philosophy, religion, or culture but just this small legal mechanism.

So how believable would it be to have Julius Caesar add basic patents to Roman law? What would that look like? Would Frontinius (who in Jorge Aldo's world makes a hot air balloon) get rich? Say a ten year protection against infringes but the idea must be communicated to the Senate or officer that the Senate appoints and be public record.

  • $\begingroup$ that would depend rather strongly on how the law is structured and implemented. It might stifle all creativity, it may not be enforceable, it could charge massive inflation for patented objects, their suppliers might take advantage of the artificial monopoly... $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 24 '15 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @IsaacKotlicky, you realize you are coming at things from a modern perspective where ten years of stagnation is considered horrible rather than a perspective of doing things the way they have always been done, right? Also, that somehow the artificial monopoly is somehow bad rather than exactly what is supposed to happen. $\endgroup$ – John_H Mar 24 '15 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ All discussion of morality and what is "right" aside, by definition if it's artificial it isn't "supposed" to happen - it's externally imposed order. Patents only "work" as they are supposed to if it is operating as an incentive for work that would not have otherwise been created. If it couldn't be created because it was too difficult, then patents won't help. If anyone could create it, then you're inhibiting people's ability to develop novel technology due to arbitrarily granting monopolies to whoever shouts "First!" There's a very narrow band where patents genuinely help society. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 24 '15 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ The Romans were already the best practical engineering society around, not to be overtaken until 1500 years later. I'm not sure patents would change matters significantly. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 24 '15 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ Patents without printing and on a large territory... Hmm. The basic idea of patents is that the inventor makes their invention public in exchange for being granted a monopoly for a limited time. The Empire was much bigger than England, communications were slow, publishing was expensive and slow, ... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 5 '17 at 11:18

Her majesty dictates: There shall be bacon and sparkling wine!

Looking at the history of patent law in ancient Greece some form of exclusive rights were granted not only for new cooking recipes but also for "any new refinement in luxury" for the duration of one year. These proto-patents might seem odd but it seems more comprehensible knowing the city Sybaris they were introduced in has been incredibly wealthy.

Her majesty dictates: Show your fantastic contraptions!

Now imagine you have a ruler fascinated by magic and fantastic contraptions instead. He likes to be shown things that seem impossible at first. Think of Arthur C Clarke's third law Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It is quite possible a ruler who happens to be an admirer of magic as well could be interested in encouraging new inventions by granting the inventor exclusive rights.

I think the actual historic example and the constructed fictional version I posted show how you could possibly establish any kind of these "patents".

  • $\begingroup$ The Emperor Justinian had a number of contraptions that he used to wow the ambassadors of other nations - a levitating throne, for example. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Mar 24 '15 at 18:01

I do not think it would have a big impact.

Classical "scientifics" were more philosophs than engineers. Even if there were engineering advances, those were few and slow (and, mind you, architecture was not an engineering but an "art", so it does not count). Some people may have done brilliant inventions and breakthroughs, but unless they had immediate utility those were not transmitted.

The causes seem to be diverse:

  • In the first hand, the techniques were very base. Maybe you had an exceptional individual capable of building a simple steam machine, but the knowledge of metallurgy in the era allowed only for vessels that only allowed for a few atmospheras of pressure, making it unpractical for most applications.

  • Since advancement was based in individuals, even when those individuals documented their work there could be no one that could replicate it, because books were not available (remember, no printing press) or, since there was not a tradition of documenting inventions, vital parts were missing.

  • Last and most important, human labour was cheap (as in slave cheap), and those with the culture for inventing things often were of the upper class (who could afford those "hobbies", but had no need to change the way things were done).

  • $\begingroup$ If an invention had immediate utility the utility didn't go to the inventor; so there wasn't an incentive to invent in that way. A patent would make it so that the utility would go to the inventor, who now has a reason to document what he has done well enough for others to reproduce it so that they can actually use it (and slaves were able to make copies of the text cheaply). I am thinking most of your answer is addressing how things were and not what would change, but you may disagree. $\endgroup$ – John_H Mar 24 '15 at 19:05

"Various people and theories have arisen which argue that it was the British and then American patent system which caused the industrial revolution"

I would argue with that and say that industrial revolution was caused by the need to mass produce goods. The argument against patent law and backing my is very simply: BETA vs VHS. Beta format was (is?) protected by patent system and while superior to VHS it failed as it could not be produced in the quantity the market wanted in the price market was willing to pay. That "niche" was filled by mass produced VHS format of different quality.

Notice that Rome social order was the finest one at that time. The Empire was stretching from Italy to Scotland. So what would be better for Rome that would also not be incorporated into it system?


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