Patent Protection During the Industrial Revolution in England: Who and What Would Be Protected by the Courts?



From the mid-eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolution was gathering momentum in England. Inventing processes of use to industry and manufacturing was becoming increasingly lucrative, but inventors often needed financial backers. The patenting of inventions offered businessmen a more secure investment opportunity. However, it was of vital importance to these businessmen that their patent would be upheld in court. Patent litigation during the early phase of the Industrial Revolution was a risky enterprise for patentees. The judges of the common law courts were faced with the task of determining the patentability of inventions related to the mechanisation of processes and the use of chemical discoveries. Whether a process, as distinct from the product made, could be the subject matter of a patent was an issue which divided the judiciary. It would only be in the 1840s that businessmen could be sure that a process patent with an industrial application would be upheld in court. However, even today not all processes are patentable. The technology has changed from mechanization to digitalization but, in some respect, the risks of patent litigation for commercial inventors today are not fundamentally different from those facing the commercial inventors of the Industrial Revolution.
Download paper
The Business History Seminar has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Vereniging Trustfonds Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.
Contact information:
Abe de Jong Ben Wubs
Email Email