The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Courts have historically held that products of nature unmodified by human action are ineligible for patents. This doctrine derived from the evolution of the British patent system during the colonial period, particularly its lingering practice of granting patents for importation; the American colonists’ resentment of monopolies and their Enlightenment commitment to both a cultural and a natural commons; their willingness in the Revolutionary era to grant the privilege of patent monopolies only so long as they were temporary and covered inventions that were truly new. The fact that natural products as such were not new made the doctrine implicitly part of American patent law in the first years of the republic, and it was made explicit during the nineteenth century through an accumulating body of court decisions.

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