As far back as 500 BC, in a Greek city called Sybaris, there have been patents. Their stated purpose is to encourage innovation through rewarding the creation of novel objects and ideas, though their actual purpose is debated. Some are of the opinion that copyrights and patents are methods of control imposed by governments and corporations. Regardless, our current patent system does offer some protection to inventors — about 20 years of exclusive distribution rights. Though a few states had their own earlier, the US Patent Act was signed in 1790. This means that about 75% of the 8 million US patents are now in public domain, meaning anyone can make and sell them.
To bring attention to that fact, Martin Galese is dusting the dust off old patents by making them 3D printable. Galese is a software patent lawyer and he runs the Patent-Able Tumblr. As a patent lawyer he sees the less pleasant side of patents, so his Tumblr is his outlet. Galese creates 3D models of objects in public doman, taking them from “the original Thingiverse” and uploading them to the current Thingiverse.
Galese feels “They’re really works of art. You’re holding the 19th century by way of something that was produced in the 21st century.” It really is quite romantic, holding something created with the click of a button that was originally patented because it was novel. Go print some of his uploads; maybe you’ll find some inspiration.