Monday, February 09, 2009

Myth: "Watt, the Hero Inventor"

The term "patent troll" is valid--there is at least one such firm in the greater Milwaukee area.

But they were hardly the first.

In most histories, James Watt is a heroic inventor, responsible for the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The facts suggest an alternative interpretation. ...After getting one step ahead of the pack, he remained ahead not by superior innovation, but by superior exploitation of the legal system.

...innovation was stifled until his patents expired; and few steam engines were built during the period of Watt's legal monopoly. From the number of innovations that occurred immediately after the expiration of the patent, it appears that Watt's competitors simply waited until then before releasing their own innovations...

...we see that Watt's inventive skills were badly allocated: we find him spending more time engaged in legal action to establish and preserve his monopoly than he did in the actual improvement and production of his engine. --Boldrin & Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly, quoted at Reason.

HT: Overlawyered

No comments: