This paper explores the legal history of patent law in relation to classical liberalism and classical republicanism. In a very basic sense liberalism emphasizes the importance of individuals, while republicanism emphasizes individual sacrifice for the community. A patent creates a temporary monopoly privilege for an inventor to encourage disclosure of the invention to the public. On one hand, the patent exists to protect the individuals claim to their invention. On the other, patents exist to facilitate the transfer of ideas into the common knowledge pool. In this way, a patent balances an individual’s property right with an obligation to sacrifice by publishing their idea for the community.
A historical analysis indicates that classical liberalism and classical republicanism balance and shape the development of early patent law. Now, new concerns such as multinational pharmaceutical companies have added layers of complexity to the law that make this balance more difficult to discern. However, these theories of governance still linger below the surface and inklings of this debate reappear influencing patent law discretely in contemporary politics.