Strong Steam, Weak Patents, or, the Myth of Watt’s Innovation-Blocking Monopoly, Exploded
The Cato Institute; University of Georgia
John L. Turner
University of Georgia - C. Herman and Mary Virginia Terry College of Business - Department of Economics
April 14, 2010
Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 54, November 2011
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 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.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 34
Keywords: Steam engines, James Watt, intellectul monopoly, patents
JEL Classification: O31, K11, L43
Date posted: April 14, 2010 ; Last revised: January 17, 2015
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