The British patent system during the industrial revolution, 1700-1852: from privilege to property

Sean Bottomley

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


In theory, by providing proprietary rights in inventions, patents help inventors to appropriate returns and so encourage inventive activities. Also, by obliging the inventor to disclose and publish their invention, patents aid the diffusion of technology. In practice, however, it has been suggested that patents in Britain were prohibitively difficult to obtain and enforce until reform in 1852. The first half of my book re-assessed the patent system; it established that thanks to the services of patent agents, patent rights were readily obtainable for inventors. It also showed that patent rights were readily enforceable in court.
Thus, patent protection was much more effective than previously thought, resurrecting the possibility that they encouraged technological development: the subject of the second half of my book. One chapter examined the role of patents in diffusing technology. To secure a patent, an inventor had to submit a detailed written description of the invention. These were diligently prepared (if they were found to be inadequate, the patent was lost) and during a period when up-to-date technical information was otherwise scarce, extensively published. Another chapter analysed the market in patents. Rather than commercialise technology themselves, many inventors chose to sell or licence their patents to manufacturers. Such transactions were common and often lucrative. The book concludes that the protection provided by the patent system, and the profits it proffered, was integral to encouraging inventive activity during the industrial revolution.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherUniversity of Cambridge
Number of pages336
ISBN (Electronic)9781316130216, 9781107415508
ISBN (Print)9781107058293
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameCambridge Intellectual Property and Information Law


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