A. Patents

1. Introduction

Filippo Brunelleschi is best known for his astonishing design of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in the heart of Florence (Figure I.1). Built primarily between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, the dome held the record as the largest dome in the world until 1928 when construction of the Leipzig Market dome was completed; the record was thus only passed with the development of a completely new technology, in this case the use of reinforced concrete instead of traditional masonry techniques for building domes. Even now the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore remains larger than the dome of the Capitol Building in Washington DC, larger than the dome at St Paul's Cathedral in London, larger than the dome in the Pantheon in Rome, and even larger than the dome in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The story of how the dome was built, especially within the context of Brunelleschi's nearly lifelong competition with Lorenzo Ghiberti, is a remarkable story that highlights the achievements possible by those possessed with unusual ingenuity.1

What is somewhat less well known about Brunelleschi is that he was also the first person in history to be awarded a patent for a technical invention. Brunelleschi had developed a technique for transporting marble upstream the Arno River to Florence from the quarries at Carrara. During the height of the Italian Renaissance period, the transportation of marble for use in creating sculptural works of art was both difficult and costly. Brunelleschi refused to disclose his technique, fearing that others would make use of his insight without him receiving any direct benefit. The Republic of Florence accordingly granted a patent to Brunelleschi in 1421, giving him a monopoly on the manufacture of his invention, a barge that included hoisting gear to facilitate transportation of the marble. The monopoly lasted three years and permitted Brunelleschi to benefit from inventing what his contemporaries described as "II Badalone" ("The Monster").

In its grant of the patent to Brunelleschi, the Florentine Republic included a preamble that expressed the basic pact that governments continue to make with inventors in order to have them disclose their inventions:

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