The democratization of invention

Khan, B. Zorina

The democratization of invention : patents and copyright in American economic development, 1790-1920

Cambridge : Cambridge university press, 2005, XVI-322 p.

Collection NBER series on long-term factors in economic development

ISBN 978-0-521-81135-4

Résumé :

This book examines the evolution and impact of the intellectual property rights system in the United States during the “long nineteenth century”. The American experience is compared to Britain and France, countries whose institutions reflected their oligarchic origins. Instead, U.S. patent and copyright institutions were carefully calibrated to “promote the general welfare”. The United States created the first modern patent system, and its policies were the most liberal in the world toward inventors. When markets expanded, these inventors contributed to the proliferation of new technologies and improvements, many of which proved to be valuable in both economic and technical terms. Individuals who did not have the resources to directly exploit their inventions benefited disproportionately from the operation of efficient markets. The accumulation of such incremental efforts helped to propel the United States to the forefront of all other industrial nations. In contrast to its leadership in the area patents, the U.S. copyright regime was among the weakest in the world, and it profited from international copyright piracy for a century. American patent and copyright institutions both promoted a process of democratization that not only furthered economic and technological progress but also provided a conduit for the creativity and achievements of relatively disadvantaged groups.

B. Zorina Khan is associate professor of economics at Bowdoin College. Her research focuses on the economic history of law, technology, and institutions. She has written articles for  such journals as the Journal of economic history and the Journal of economic perspectives. She is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of economic history and is a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Axe de recherches :

  • Équipe 2 : Activités économiques, dynamiques sociales, échanges

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