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Principle, practice and persona in Isambard Kingdom Brunel's patent abolitionism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 July 2007

Program in HPS, School of History and Philosophy, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. Email:


The nineteenth-century engineering hero Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a prominent patent abolitionist in debates about the patent system in Britain. His opposition is usually regarded as principled, that is, based in liberal laissez-faire opposition to monopolies and to the constraints of bureaucracy. Against this it is argued that Brunel's views on patents evolved. As late as 1840, despite lessons about patents from the bad experiences of his father, Brunel could still consider taking out a patent himself, something that a decade later he denied he had ever contemplated. Brunel's engineering persona, his experiences and conduct of engineering practice were the base from which he eventually formulated principled opposition to the patent system. The paper examines his responses to importunate inventors who pestered him with inventions in the 1840s and elucidates how he dealt with the patented inventions of others that he wanted to use in his projects. It is suggested that for Brunel patent abolitionism was in effect a way of doing business before it became a political cause. The case suggests the value of approaching the history of patents and, by implication, of intellectual property more generally, through detailed examination of practices.

Research Article
Copyright © British Society for the History of Science 2008

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‘Memorandum for Evidence before the Select Committee on the Patent Laws [1851]’, Letterbook 8, 164–73, Brunel Collection, Special Collections, Bristol University Library (hereafter Brunel Collection). This text is printed, more or less faithfully, in I. Brunel, The Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Civil Engineer, London, 1870, 490–6. My italics.

I. K. Brunel to John Farey, 21 January 1841, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 2A, 44–5. Farey (1791–1851) was a well-known consulting engineer and is not to be confused with his father, of the same name (1766–1826). From the later 1820s much of Farey's work was as a consultant and it was in that capacity, presumably, that Brunel approached him. See A. P. Woolrich, ‘Farey, John (1791–1851)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004, available at (hereafter ODNB); accessed 28 July 2006.

See C. MacLeod, ‘The nineteenth-century engineer as cultural hero’, in Brunel: In Love with the Impossible: A Celebration of the Life, Work and Legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (ed. A. Kelly and M. Kelly), Bristol, 2006, 60–83.

See report from BBC News at The efforts of students of Brunel University, the then approaching bicentenary of Brunel's birth and, perhaps more surprisingly, the advocacy of Jeremy Clarkson reputedly contributed to the result.

S. Brindle, Brunel: The Man who Built the World, London, 2006. See also the review of Brindle by F. A. J. L. James, ‘Partners of genius deserve a little glory’, The Times Higher Education Supplement, 30 June 2006, 28.

On the history and operation of the patent system and debate about it before and during this period see C. MacLeod, Inventing the Industrial Revolution: The English Patent System, 1660–1800, Cambridge, 1988; H. I. Dutton, The Patent System and Inventive Activity during the Industrial Revolution, Manchester, 1984; M. Coulter, Property in Ideas: The Patent Question in Mid-Victorian Britain, Kirksville, 1991. See also the treatment of the history of economic ideas about, and the philosophy of, the patent system in M., Fisher, ‘Classical economics and philosophy of the patent system’, Intellectual Property Quarterly (2005) 9, 126Google Scholar. I am grateful to Dr Fisher for allowing me to see parts of his forthcoming book, Fundamentals of Patent Law: Interpretation and Scope of Protection.

These included William Cubitt, William Armstrong, Robert A. MacFie, John Fairrie and John Louis Ricardo. See Coulter, op. cit. (6), 73–92; and Dutton, op. cit. (6), 28–9.

A. B. Jaffe and J. Lerner, Innovation and Its Discontents, Princeton, 2004, 86–90; D. P. Miller, ‘The political economy of discovery stories: the case of Dr Irving Langmuir and General Electric’, paper presented to AAHPSSS Annual Conference, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, November 2005; Johns, A., ‘Intellectual property and the nature of science’, Cultural Studies (2006), 20, 145–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a comparison of abolitionism old and new see Janis, M. D., ‘Patent abolitionism’, Berkeley Technology Law Journal (2002), 17, 899952Google Scholar.

See J. Boyle, Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society, Cambridge, MA, 1996; idem, ‘The second enclosure movement and the construction of the public domain’, Law and Contemporary Problems (2003), 66, 3374Google Scholar; Hafstein, V., ‘The politics of origins: collective creation revisited’, Journal of American Folklore (2004), 117, 300–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hunter, D., ‘Culture war’, Texas Law Review (2005), 83, 1105–36Google Scholar.

10  C. MacLeod, ‘Concepts of invention and the patent controversy in Victorian Britain’, in Technological Change: Methods and Themes in the History of Technology (ed. R. Fox), Amsterdam, 1996, 137–54.

11  For a splendid treatment of Brunel as system-builder see B. Marsden and C. Smith, Engineering Empires: A Cultural History of Technology in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Basingstoke, 2005, 145–56.

12  So far as studies of patents within the frameworks of history and philosophy of science, and science and technology studies, are concerned, my thrust is very similar to, and inspired by, that argued for and exemplified in the following: Cambrosio, A., Keating, P. and Mackenzie, M., ‘Scientific practice in the courtroom: the construction of sociotechnical identities in a biotechnology patent dispute’, Social Problems (1990), 37, 275–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Myers, G., ‘From discovery to invention: the writing and rewriting of two patents’, Social Studies of Science (1995), 25, 57105CrossRefGoogle Scholar; C. Bazerman, The Languages of Edison's Light, Cambridge, MA, 1999, Chapters 5 and 12; G. Bowker, ‘What's in a patent?’, in Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (ed. W. Bijker and J. Law), Cambridge, MA, 1992, 53–74.

13  Brunel, Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, op. cit. (1), 485–98.

14  L. T. C. Rolt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel: A Biography, London, 1957, 217–33.

15  Rolt, op. cit. (14), 217.

16  Rolt, op. cit. (14), 217.

17  In expressing to General Sir John Fox Burgoyne his frustrations with what he found to be the tardiness and obstructiveness of the Admiralty, Brunel referred to that august institution's ‘extraordinary supply of cold water and capacious and heavy extinguishers’ and its ‘unlimited supply of some negative principle which seems to absorb and eliminate everything that approaches them’. Quoted in Rolt, op. cit. (14), 223; emphasis in Rolt.

18  A. Buchanan, Brunel: The Life and Times of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, London, 2002.

19  See my treatment of patent specifications as susceptible to the ‘patent specifier's regress’ in Miller, D. P., ‘Watt in court: specifying steam engines and classifying engineers in the patent trials of the 1790s’, History of Technology (2007), 27, forthcomingGoogle Scholar. I owe the language of ‘gaps’ to my colleague John Schuster's treatment of measurement and experiment. See his online text, J. A. Schuster, An Introduction to the History and Social Studies of Science, Chapter 6, accessible at

20  I am not suggesting that Brunel was unique in doing this. Indeed, such ‘games’ were common between other engineering concerns and outside patentees. I am suggesting that Brunel was rather good at such games and that the knowledge that he played them allows us to understand more fully his attitude towards patents.

21  I. K. Brunel to Charles Saunders, 3 December 1837, quoted in Rolt, op. cit. (14), 113–14.

22  Rolt, op. cit. (14), 113.

23  Marsden and Smith, op. cit. (11), 146–8. They draw on T. P. Hughes's concepts as presented, for example, in ‘The evolution of large technological systems’, in The Social Construction of Technological Systems (ed. W. Bijker, T. P. Hughes and T. Pinch), Cambridge, MA, 1987, 51–82.

24  MacLeod, op. cit. (3), 62, 79, who explains how Victorian engineers looked for safer hands in their most preferred heroes.

25  Marsden and Smith, op. cit. (11), 155, who also note that ‘Brunel's dangerous individualism clashed with collective action’. For modern historical studies which attack what they see as the mythologies surrounding Brunel see A. Vaughan, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Engineering Knight-Errant, London, 1991; and Emmerson, G. S., ‘L.T.C. Rolt and the Great Eastern affair of Brunel versus Scott Russell’, Technology and Culture (1980), 21, 553–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Buchanan, R. A., ‘The Great Eastern controversy: a comment’, Technology and Culture (1983), 24, 98106CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Emmerson, G. S., ‘The Great Eastern controversy: in response to Dr. Buchanan’, Technology and Culture (1983), 24, 107–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26  Rolt, op. cit. (14), 175–6, 179.

27  Brunel, ‘Memorandum for Evidence’, op. cit. (1); original emphasis. Brunel's testimony before the Select Committee in many respects very closely followed the wording of the ‘Memorandum’. See Report and Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee of the House of Lords appointed to Consider of the Bill intituled ‘An Act further to amend the Law touching Letters Patent for Inventions …’, London, 1851 (hereafter Minutes of Evidence).

28  Minutes of Evidence, op. cit. (27), 246.

29  Minutes of Evidence, op. cit. (27), 246.

30  On the elder Brunel's block-making for the Navy see J. Coad, The Portsmouth Block Mills: Bentham, Brunel and the Start of the Royal Navy's Industrial Revolution, Swindon, 2005.

31  B. Woodcroft, Alphabetical Index of Patentees of Inventions, London, 1969 (first published 1854), 76–7. The latest biography of Marc Brunel lists only fifteen patents filed (and reproduces the texts of their specifications). See H. Bagust, The Greater Genius? A Biography of Marc Isambard Brunel, London, 2006, 122–47.

32  L. T. C. Rolt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Harmondsworth, 1989 (first published 1957), 38–9; P. Clements, Marc Isambard Brunel, London, 1970, 74–80, 77. Marsden and Smith, op. cit. (11), 65–9.

33  The Times, 3 July 1830, 6. The dispute in question was between Alexander Galloway of the City of London Engine Manufactory and Braithwaite and Ericsson. Other ‘Law reports’ in The Times document some of the elder Brunel's activities. See, for example, The Times, 8 January 1820, 3; 30 May 1820, 3; 28 February 1831, 6; 28 June 1832, 6.

34  Minutes of Evidence, op. cit. (27), 254. For the rendition of this in the ‘Memorandum’ see Brunel, Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, op. cit. (1), 490.

35  Buchanan, op. cit. (18), 177. The source is I. K. Brunel, Private Diary, II.3.ii, 30 January 1833, Brunel Collection.

36  The ‘ordinary blast’ refers to the process of venting waste steam up the chimney of a locomotive, which has the effect of creating a draught beneficial to the combustion of the fuel. See E. L. Ahrons, The British Steam Railway Locomotive 1825–1925, London, 1927, 6–8.

37  I. K. Brunel to John Farey, 21 January 1841, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 2A, 44–5; original emphasis.

38  See, for example, O. S. Nock, ‘Railways’, in The Works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel: An Engineering Appreciation (ed. A. Pugsley), Cambridge, 1976, 69–88, 69. The idea of marginal men as innovative by virtue of their marginality is, of course, a well-known theme.

39  Ahrons, op. cit. (36), 43–5; Rolt, op. cit. (14), 117, 120–1. I report, rather than endorse, these judgements. In examining controversies over particular pieces of engineering practice (something in which I am not engaged here) I would recommend a symmetrical approach that allows the historian to avoid unthinkingly siding with the historical ‘winners’. In comparison with Stephenson's locomotive designs, Brunel's were characterized by low bodies and massive wheels.

40  Quoted in E. T. MacDermot, History of the Great Western Railway, Volume 1 1833–1863, London, 1964 (first published 1927), 389; emphasis in MacDermot.

41  MacDermot, op. cit. (40), 395.

42  I. K. Brunel to Reverend J. Hickman, 7 July 1848, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 6, 63–4.

43  The funniest response, and a sign that Brunel had no illusions about the efficacy of his patent advice, came in a letter of December 1852: ‘As you ask me my opinion of the advisability of patenting your bridge, I give it you; though you will probably be the first person who will have followed such advice, if you do so, and might safely patent such a novel mode of using advice.’ See Brunel, Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, op. cit. (1), 212 n. The advice, predictably, was that the bridge could not be patented.

44  I. K. Brunel to R. Drake, 19 April 1846, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 4, 249–50.

45  I. K. Brunel to J. G. Shuttleworth, 18 November 1846, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 5, 51. Shuttleworth had two patents at the time he approached Brunel: Patent No. 8,158, 18 July 1839, ‘Obtaining a rotary motion from the recti-linear motion of the piston-rod of a steam or other similar engine’, and Patent No. 8,539, 9 June 1840, ‘Railway and other propulsion’.

46  I. K. Brunel to John Lee, 13 December 1847, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 5, 327–8; original emphasis.

47  Minutes of Evidence, op. cit. (27), 248. Brunel was offering here a tale of the poor inventor alternative to Charles Dickens's ‘Poor man's tale of a patent’. Dickens's intervention was an important one on the side of the pro-patent reform lobby with its account of the ludicrous obstacles and expense separating the virtuous but poor inventor from his just reward. C. Dickens, ‘A poor man's tale of a patent’, Household Words, 19 October 1850. On Dickens's direct inspiration by, and association with, other patent-law reformers, notably Henry Cole, see ‘Introduction’, in J. Phillips, Charles Dickens and the ‘Poor Man's Tale of a Patent’, Oxford, 1984. See also C. Pettitt, Patent Inventions: Intellectual Property and the Victorian Novel, Oxford, 2004, 82–3, 185–8.

48  Kyan sold his patent rights to the Anti-Dry Rot Company in 1836. The process, which involved soaking the timber in mercuric chloride, was much vaunted. The timber used for building the British Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons and Temple Church was kyanized. Faraday gave his inaugural lecture as Fullerian professor of chemistry at the Royal Institution in 1833 on Kyan's process. Experience showed, however, that no iron fastenings could be used with wood treated in this way because they became brittle due to corrosive action. See R. B. Prosser, ‘Kyan, John Howard (1774–1850)’, rev. R. C. Cox, ODNB, op. cit. (2); accessed 16 August 2006.

49  Sir William Burnett (1779–1861) was a Royal Navy surgeon who saw active service in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He was subsequently head of the Royal Navy Medical Department but in his later years was controversial because of his entrepreneurial activities in the commercial exploitation of zinc chloride, first as a disinfectant and then as a timber preservative. See Penn, C., ‘Sir William Burnett (1779–1861), professional head of the Royal Naval Medical Department and entrepreneur’, Journal of Medical Biography (August 2004), 12, 141–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50  I. K. Brunel to Charles Jackson, 5 April 1850, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 7, 178–80.

51  I. K. Brunel to Messrs W. O. and W. Hunt, 1 June 1850, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 7, 235; original emphasis. The patent in question is that granted to John Wright (No. 12,285), on 12 October 1848, for ‘Generating steam and evaporating fluids’. See Woodcroft, op. cit. (31), 639.

52  I. K. Brunel to Messrs W. O. and W. Hunt, 17 June 1850, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 7, 240–2.

53  See I. K. Brunel to Messrs W. O and W. Hunt, 15 July 1850, 24 July 1850, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 7, 267, 276–7.

54  I. K. Brunel to Messrs W. O. and W. Hunt, 10 August 1850, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 7, 286–8; original emphasis. Brunel's idea was that an alternative cause of the improvement might be ‘the peculiar operation of the Gridiron forming a number of distinct jets of flame to which the Oxygen could more freely have access and the combustion be thus rendered more perfect’.

55  Brunel, op. cit. (54).

56  Brunel, op. cit. (54).

57  I. K. Brunel to Sir I. Brunel, 17 October 1842, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 2c, 73; original emphasis.

58  ‘Notices of application to Parliament’, The Times, 29 November 1851, 3. The PWC is an interesting example of a company working patents, which has been strangely neglected. For an account of similar companies of this period and their operations see Dutton, op. cit. (6), 152–74.

59  See The Times, 31 January 1852, 2a; and 2 July 1852, 9a. Later advertisements inform us that the patents that the PWC held included those by W. B. Adams, P. Ashcroft, P. W. Barlow, W. H. Barlow, P. S. Bruff, John Gardner, L. D. B. Gordon, C. F. Guitard, J. W. Hoby, Sir John Macneill, Charles May, Robert Richardson, James Samuel and Charles H. Wild. See The Times, 11 March 1854, 6a. The company subsequently managed the patent of Dr Boucherie for preserving wood, especially but not exclusively railway sleepers. See The Times, 23 April 1856, 4a. Later still some of the engineer–patentees associated with the Company acted on its behalf in designing and laying down an experimental line incorporating numerous improvements as part of the Greenwich Railway. Presumably this was a demonstration line. See ‘Railway Intelligence. London and South-western’, The Times, 28 October 1858, 5e. Ben Marsden has pointed out to me that a number of the PWC's stable of patentees were educators and/or associated with the creation of government-imposed standards. Neither characteristic would endear them to Brunel. On the academic engineering career of one of them, who had earlier worked on the Thames Tunnel with the Brunels, see B. Marsden, ‘“A Most Important Trespass”: Lewis Gordon and the Glasgow Chair of Civil Engineering and Mechanics’, in Making Space for Science: Territorial Themes in the Shaping of Knowledge (ed. C. Smith and J. Agar), Houndmills, 1998, 87–117.

60  On Charles May see Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (1860–2), 11, pp. x–xi; Royal Society of London, Certificates of Election and Candidature, EC/1854/10, available at’&dsqCmd=Show.tcl. Details concerning the dissolution of the partnership Ransomes and May can be found in ‘Deed of Dissolution of Partnership’, Papers of Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies Ltd, Museum of English Rural Life, Reading University, TR RAN/CO1/2. May, like Brunel, gave testimony on patents to the Select Committee of 1851. See Minutes of Evidence, op. cit. (27), 367–72.

61  Adams, W. B., ‘The construction and duration of the permanent way of railways in Europe, and the modifications most suitable to Egypt, India &c’, Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1851–2), 11, 244–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The discussion is printed on 273–98. The five PWC inventors and discussants, in addition to Adams himself, were P. W. Barlow, P. Ashcroft, J. Samuel, W. H. Barlow and C. May.

62  Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1851–2), 10, 276.

63  Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, op. cit. (62), 287. In his testimony before the Select Committee Brunel had characterized patents of this type as ‘rambling’ or ‘fishing’ patents (Minutes of Evidence, op. cit. (27), 251, 253.)

64  Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, op. cit. (62), 276, 288.

65  M. Huish, ‘Railway accidents’, Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1851–2), 11, 434–50; B. Poole, ‘The economy of railways’, ibid., 450–60. The discussion is recorded on 461–77.

66  I. K. Brunel to Charles May, 14 May 1852, Letterbook 9, 20–2.

67  Brunel, op. cit. (66); original emphasis. The gibe about the ‘fish’ goes deeper than just a nice simile. ‘Fish’ was, of course, the name for one of the key components of the rail construction for which the PWC had patents. Brunel was saying that the company's attempt to contain invention and improvement was doomed. The reference in this letter to ‘today’ is puzzling. ‘Today’ was 14 May, whilst the nearest institution meeting to that date was on 11 May. Either the letter is dated misleadingly, having been partially written on 11 May, or there was another, as yet unidentified, occasion when Brunel discussed the PWC with other engineers.

68  Minutes of Evidence, op. cit. (27), 248.

69  On Smith see D. K. Brown, ‘Smith, Sir Francis Petit (1808–1874)’, ODNB, op. cit. (2).

70  J. B. Caldwell, ‘The three great ships’, in The Works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel: An Engineering Appreciation (ed. A. Pugsley), Cambridge, 1980, 137–62, 158.

71  Brunel, Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, op. cit. (1), 253–4; Rolt, op. cit. (14), 218–20.

72  A. Lambert, ‘The Royal Navy and the introduction of the screw propeller, 1837–1847’, in Innovation in Shipping and Trade (ed. S. Fisher), Exeter, 1989, 61–88; idem, ‘Brunel, the Navy and the screw propeller’, in Brunel's Ships (ed. D. Griffiths, A. Lambert and F. Walker), Chatham, 1999, 27–52. See also D. K. Brown, Before the Ironclad: Development of Ship Design, Propulsion and Armament in the Royal Navy, 1815–1860, London, 1990, Chapters 9 and 10.

73  A. Buchanan, op. cit. (18), 178–9; A. Lambert, ‘The SS Great Britain’, in Brunel: In Love with the Impossible. A Celebration of the Life, Work and Legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (ed. A. Kelly and M. Kelly), Bristol: 2006, 163–80, 167–9.

74  I. K. Brunel to F. P. Smith, 1 April 1844, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 3, 8–9.

75  I. K. Brunel to Sir John Barrow, 4 April 1844, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 3, 15–16. Perhaps Brunel's scepticism about the value of patents had rubbed off on Smith. Lambert explains that the Admiralty had by this stage lost interest in further experimental work and saw it as benefiting Smith's patent only. When they learned there was no new patent they relented. See Lambert, ‘Brunel, the Navy and the screw propeller’, op. cit. (72), 47.

76  See Caldwell, op. cit. (70), 158. Caldwell tells us that by 1852 there were over ninety distinct patents for ship propellers, seventy-two of them being granted after 1836 when Smith had begun his experiments.

77  On Penn see A. Lambert, ‘Penn, John (1805–1878)’, ODNB, op. cit. (2). A sense of some of the litigation can be gained from ‘Woodcroft v. Smith’, The Times, 12 March 1846, 7a; and ‘Lowe v. Penn’, The Times, 12 May 1846, 7f.

78  I. K. Brunel to John Penn, 10 December 1846, Brunel Collection, Letterbook 3, 235–6; original emphasis.

79  On Brunel's estimation of Smith's contribution see Lambert, ‘Brunel, the Navy and the screw propeller’, op. cit. (72), 50–2.

80  Minutes of Evidence, op. cit. (27), 248.

81  There are clearly important exceptions. Dutton, op. cit. (6), long ago pursued the patent agents, and the legal and the trading aspects of the patent business. See also J. Andrew, J. Tann, C. MacLeod and J. Stein, ‘Steam-power patents in the nineteenth century – innovations and ineptitudes’, Transactions of the Newcomen Society (2001), 72, 17–38; aspects of C. MacLeod, J. Tann, J. Andrew and J. Stein, ‘Evaluating inventive activity: the cost of nineteenth-century UK patents and the fallibility of renewal data’, Economic History Review (2003), 56, 537–62; K. Bruland, ‘The management of intellectual property at home and abroad: Babcock & Wilcox 1850–1910’, History of Technology (2002), 24, 151–70; A. Guagnini, ‘Patent agents, legal advisers and Guglielmo Marconi's breakthrough in wireless telegraphy’, History of Technology (2002), 24, 171–201.

82  See C. MacLeod, ‘James Watt, heroic invention and the idea of the Industrial Revolution’, in Technological Revolutions in Europe: Historical Perspectives (ed. M. Berg and K. Bruland), Cheltenham, 1998, 96–116; Pettitt, op. cit. (47); D. P. Miller, ‘“Puffing Jamie”: The commercial and ideological importance of being a “philosopher” in the case of the reputation of James Watt (1736–1819)’, History of Science (2000), 38, 1–24, 6–14.

83  For example, the extent in later periods and other industries of ‘collective invention’, of the sort revealed in the early nineteenth-century Cornish steam engine industry by Alessandro Nuvolari, remains to be established. Such collective invention was in part a reaction against those seeking to enforce a dominant patent position, in that case against Boulton and Watt. In this sense, like Brunel's practices, it represents a strategy (albeit a collective one) for dealing with troublesome patents. See A., Nuvolari, ‘Collective invention during the British Industrial Revolution: the case of the Cornish pumping engine’, Cambridge Journal of Economics (2004), 28, 347–63Google Scholar.