Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


James Watt: Monopolist

The Ludwig von Mises Institute posted a look at our own Boldrin/Levine project Against Intellectual Monopoly on their blog back on New Year’s Eve. I missed it until now, but it’s worth a read.

In  this first chapter excerpt, Boldrin and Levine view copyright and innovation through the lens of James Watt, steam engine inventor and darling of the British patent system.

A few fun facts from the chapter:

  • Watt’s patent ran from 1769-1800 (due to extra legal influence)
  • During Watt’s patent, the UK added 750 horsepower of steam engines per year. In the following 30 years: 4,000 horsepower per year.
  • Many innovations to the steam engine were developed before 1800, but idled until the patent expired.
  • Watt couldn’t do much to improve his own design, since the most significant improvements were patented by others.
  • Watt and his partner Boulton didn’t even make many steam engines during their patent, they just charged fees of those who did.

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