Queen Mary Journal of Intellectual Property

The myth of Mr Burke and Mr Watt: for want of a Champion!

Phillip Johnson *

Keywords: patent law, Edmund Burke, James Watt, Richard Champion, patent history, steam engine, porcelain


Edmund Burke, one of England's great thinkers and orators of the eighteenth century, has been lauded as a champion of the anti-intellectual-property movement by scholars past and present. This reputation arises largely through his opposition to James Watt's Fire Engine Act 1775. However, the article examines the contemporary evidence and challenges this dominant interpretation, showing that Burke's views were actually very much in favour of granting monopolies to inventors as well as authors.

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