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Before [patent law], any man might instantly use what another had invented; the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery and production of new and useful things.
Abraham Lincoln Lecture on Discoveries, Inventions, and Improvements, before the Springfield Library Association, Springfield, Illinois