Concepts, Actors and Practices from the Past to the Present
Queen Mary Studies in Intellectual Property series
Edited by Stathis Arapostathis and Graham Dutfield
Chapter 2: Managing invention: Setting the boundaries of ownership
By the end of the nineteenth century, German firms were changing the face of invention. The world of the workshop in which the lone inventor toiled in vain was giving way to the industrial research laboratory staffed by a fleet of for-hire employee-inventors. Invention, as one scholar has described it, had become ‘industrialized’ (Meyer-Thurow, 1982). While German independent inventors remained a significant source of new technology, firms became increasingly important players in the generation of new technology. The success of firms in achieving significant advantages by combining inventive activity with the commercial exploitation of the patented technology by creating in-house research and development laboratories is well documented (Lamoreaux and Sokoloff, 2005a; 2005b). Even before unification and the adoption of a national patent law to encourage inventive activity, German firms had already ‘borrowed’ extensively from technology developed in other countries to ‘catch up’. At the same time, German states were introducing educational reforms to create a formally educated class of specialists trained in R & D. When the first national patent law was finally passed, firms were already employing these highly educated workers to routinize improvements in technology and to rely less on technology developed outside of the firm. These advantages are particularly true of the German dyestuff and pharmaceutical industry. Scholars use the emergence of the German chemical industry during the nineteenth century as a key example of the success of the corporate research laboratory to propel Germany down its ‘peculiar’ path of rapid industrialization by the mid-nineteenth century.
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