Patents of Introduction and the Spanish Innovation System
From a long-term perspective, technological innovation could have come from local or domestic inventive and research activity, or from the transfer of foreign technology. In reality either option produces similar effects and often it was a combination of both which drove the historical acceleration of the rhythm of innovation and expansion of industry. This was fundamental for Great Britain and its early followers, and even more so for the latecomers and the underdeveloped countries. Spain, for example, suffered from scientific, technological and industrial backwardness which impeded the implementation of a national research and development infrastructure capable of generating competitive inventive activity. However, the national innovation system was designed, from the 18th century onwards, to favour the transfer of technology and human capital from abroad and thus establish the basis of modern economic growth and the process of industrialization. In this paper we will reflect on the design of the Spanish Innovation System, especially in one of its institutional aspects (the patent system), in order to understand the real role and function of a curios legal process the “patent of introduction”, which in practice promoted and permitted anyone to protect foreign third-person technologies in order to implement them locally, providing they were not already established. Although this legal practice represents a very clear declaration of intentions concerning the innovation policy and despite its existence in other patent systems in lagging countries, economic and technology historians have paid little or no attention to the subject. Therefore it is unclear how patents of introduction functioned and what consequences they had on the innovation and industrialization processes, especially in underdeveloped countries such as Spain, which, incredibly, maintained this practice until joining the European Union in 1986. We will attempt to shed light on how patents of introduction were established and how they evolved, the role they played in the promotion of innovation, who used them and how, and the real impact they had. The conclusions point out that, as with protectionism as a commercial policy, forcing national processes of innovation that take advantage of foreign inventions with or without respecting the original inventors rights –as generally occurs with the transfer of technology from abroad- could have positive consequences on the industrialization processes as well as helping lagging countries such as Spain to catch up with modern societies.
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