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Strong Steam, Weak Patents, or the Myth of Watt’s Innovation-Blocking Monopoly, Exploded

George Selgin and John L. Turner
The Journal of Law & Economics
Vol. 54, No. 4 (November 2011), pp. 841-861
DOI: 10.1086/658495
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/658495
Page Count: 21
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Strong Steam, Weak Patents, or the Myth of Watt’s Innovation-Blocking Monopoly, Exploded
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Abstract

AbstractJames Watt’s 1769 patent is widely supposed to have stood in the way of the development of high-pressure steam technology until it finally expired in 1800. We dispute this popular claim. We show that although it is true that high-pressure steam technology developed only after the expiration of Watt’s patent, the delay was due to factors other than that patent itself, including the widely held opinion that the use of high-pressure engines were excessively risky. Indeed, Watt’s monopoly rights may actually have hastened the development of the high-pressure steam engine by inspiring Richard Trevithick to revive a supposedly obsolete technology so as to invent around them.

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