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Our book has sought to surface the historical varieties of national patent cultures at the moment when the boundaries between global and sovereign patent systems remain uncertain. Patent diversity has been remarkably resilient in the face of harmonization. In the age of empires, colonial patent cultures on the periphery diverged from those of the metropole. In the postcolonial period, newly independent nations envisioned patents as a strategic means to achieve economic traction by promising security to foreign investors, as a form of inventors’ property to satisfy the demands of mechanic politic circles or, quite simply, as a signaling of progress. There is now ever more complexity being added to an already bewildering amount of variation in the intellectual property protection of scientific and technical innovation. It threatens to erase the very territorial boundaries upon which both national patent diversity and harmonization are grounded. Future research needs to address such questions as what does pervasive patent diversity entail in the long term for the prospects of harmonization? Will international governance mechanisms develop that can accommodate variation in patent norms? And how willing might domestic patent systems be to experiment within their own patent cultures? This volume presents a portrait of creative, often innovative variants in how invention can be encouraged through patent. The upshot is that the master historical narrative of patent law appears to be not so much harmonization as resilient heterogeneity.
Expectations of the global harmonization of patent law are commonplace in legal literature. Historical writing on national patent systems, however, reveal their persistent specificities to national economic and cultural needs. These two narratives are not easy to reconcile, and the cessation in 2010 of the World Intellectual Property Office’s efforts to reconcile patent laws suggests that the diversity is the prevalent phenomenon. The reasons for this include the diverse rationales of patents in terms of: the “natural” rights of inventors; the social rewards for useful inventions; investments in the risky future of industrial progress; and the incentives required to encourage inventors to share private knowledge. Compounding this complexity is the way that historically libertarian cultures have privileged the rights of the inventor, whereas cultures cherishing strong government have focused on the needs of the state. While some systems have focused on the importance of novelty, others have focused on the utility of an invention – and not all national Patent Offices are formally required to examine patent applications for such qualities. The resilient diversity of patent systems can thus be understood as part of a multiplicity of contingent “social contracts” of protecting invention that are subject to local more than global forces.
This book explores how dissimilar patent systems remain distinctive despite international efforts towards harmonization. The dominant historical account describes harmonization as ever-growing, with familiar milestones such as the Paris Convention (1883), the World Intellectual Property Organization's founding (1967), and the formation of current global institutions of patent governance. Yet throughout the modern period, countries fashioned their own mechanisms for fostering technological invention. Notwithstanding the harmonization project, diversity in patent cultures remains stubbornly persistent. No single comprehensive volume describes the comparative historical development of patent practices. Patent Cultures: Diversity and Harmonization in Historical Perspective seeks to fill this gap. Tracing national patenting from imperial expansion in the early nineteenth century to our time, this work asks fundamental questions about the limits of globalization, innovation's cultural dimension, and how historical context shapes patent policy. It is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the contested role of patents in the modern world.
Even before the success of the incandescent lamp was fully demonstrated, the gas companies viewed the new [electrical] illuminant not only with disfavour but with evident uneasiness, and were not slow to recognise that it might in the near future become a dangerous rival. It was only natural that those interested in gas undertakings should do all in their power to prejudice the public against the use of electricity, and the wildest rumours were circulated with respect to it. An unfortunate accident at Lord Salisbury's estate was made use of as an object lesson to demonstrate the fearful consequences to the unhappy mortal who should be so venturesome as to have anything to do with electricity.
Gay & Yeaman, An Introduction to the Study of Central Station Electricity Supply, 1899.
Late Victorians were accustomed to seeing technical novelties not just as entertaining theatrical diversions but as laden with both promises of material luxury and threats of bodily harm. Those who read daily press reports of railway crashes, gas conflagrations and steam boiler explosions in the early 1880s were hardly surprised to discover that the electricity provided not only a novel kind of illumination but also a new and unpleasant form of accidental death. The case of electricity posed unusually complex concerns, however, and this was not just because it had been employed for decades in medical treatments of contested therapeutic efficacy, nor because it was employed from 1890 as a statutory if still controversial means of execution in New York State. There was something new and rather disturbing about letting the strange and powerful agency of electricity loose around the home: a hallowed space in which industrially-sourced gaslight had still not displaced the paraffin lamp or candle by the early 1880s, and the telephone was almost a complete stranger.
Behind the recurrent lay question ‘what is electricity?’ was householders’ demand to know the nature of the potent commodity that they were invited to risk bringing into the safety of the domestic sphere, notwithstanding evidence of its potentially fatal effects on unwary mortals.