IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/ucp/jlawec/doi10.1086-658495.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Strong Steam, Weak Patents, or the Myth of Watt's Innovation-Blocking Monopoly, Exploded

Author

Listed:
  • George Selgin
  • John L. Turner

Abstract

James Watt's 1769 patent is widely supposed to have stood in the way of the development of high-pressure steam technology until it finally expired in 1800. We dispute this popular claim. We show that although it is true that high-pressure steam technology developed only after the expiration of Watt's patent, the delay was due to factors other than that patent itself, including the widely held opinion that the use of high-pressure engines were excessively risky. Indeed, Watt's monopoly rights may actually have hastened the development of the high-pressure steam engine by inspiring Richard Trevithick to revive a supposedly obsolete technology so as to invent around them.

Suggested Citation

  • George Selgin & John L. Turner, 2011. "Strong Steam, Weak Patents, or the Myth of Watt's Innovation-Blocking Monopoly, Exploded," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(4), pages 841-861.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/658495
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/658495
    Download Restriction: Access to the online full text or PDF requires a subscription.

    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/658495
    Download Restriction: Access to the online full text or PDF requires a subscription.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Alessandro Nuvolari, 2004. "Collective invention during the British Industrial Revolution: the case of the Cornish pumping engine," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(3), pages 347-363, May.
    2. Nicholas Crafts, 2004. "Steam as a general purpose technology: A growth accounting perspective," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(495), pages 338-351, April.
    3. Christine MacLeod & Alessandro Nuvolari, 2016. "Inventive Activities, Patents and Early Industrialisation: A Synthesis of Research Issues," Rivista di storia economica, Società editrice il Mulino, issue 1, pages 77-108.
    4. Richard N. Langlois & David J. Denault & Samson M. Kimenyi, 1994. "Bursting Boilers and the Federal Power Redux The Evolution of Safety on the Western Rivers," Working papers 1994-01, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    5. Kitch, Edmund W, 1977. "The Nature and Function of the Patent System," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(2), pages 265-290, October.
    6. Halsey, Harlan I., 1981. "The Choice Between High-Pressure and Low-Pressure Steam Power in America in the Early Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(04), pages 723-744, December.
    7. Alessandro Nuvolari & Bart Verspagen, 2009. "Technical choice, innovation, and British steam engineering, 1800-50 -super-1," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 62(3), pages 685-710, August.
    8. Suzanne Scotchmer, 1991. "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Cumulative Research and the Patent Law," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 29-41, Winter.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/658495. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Journals Division). General contact details of provider: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JLE/ .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.