Public companies are formed within the legal systems of particular states, and therefore have associations and formal designations which are distinct and separate in the polity in which they reside. In the United States, for example, a public company is usually a type of corporation (though a corporation need not be a public company), in France it is usually a "société anonyme" (SA), in Britain a public limited company (plc), and in Germany an Aktiengesellschaft (AG). While the general idea of a public company may be similar, differences are meaningful, and are at the core of international law disputes with regard to industry and trade.
In the early modern period, the Dutch developed several financial instruments and helped lay the foundations of modern financial system. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) became the first company in history to issue bonds and shares of stock to the general public. In other words, the VOC was officially the first publicly traded company, because it was the first company to be ever actually listed on an official stock exchange. While the Italian city-states produced the first transferable government bonds, they did not develop the other ingredient necessary to produce a fully fledged capital market: corporate shareholders. As Edward Stringham (2015) notes, "companies with transferable shares date back to classical Rome, but these were usually not enduring endeavors and no considerable secondary market existed (Neal, 1997, p. 61)."