Did James Watt’s Patent(s) Really Delay the Industrial Revolution?

Bottomley, Sean (2021) Did James Watt’s Patent(s) Really Delay the Industrial Revolution? In: The battle over patents: history and the politics of innovation. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 112-135. ISBN 9780197576151, 9780197576168, 9780197576199, 9780197576182

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780197576151.003.0004


Perhaps no inventor or invention was as pivotal to the British industrial revolution than James Watt and his separate condenser. By radically improving the fuel efficiency of steam engines, Watt’s condenser was instrumental to steam’s adoption as a power source in a plethora of industrial activities. However, Watt’s patent for the condenser, obtained in 1769 and extended to 1800, is frequently invoked as a classic example of a “blocking” patent, used to stymie subsequent technical developments in steam engineering, in turn delaying industrialization. The chapter refutes this claim using new archival materials, which show that Watt and his business partner Matthew Boulton were reluctant litigators who were ultimately willing to license their patented technology to other users. The chapter also provides an analytical narrative of Watt’s condenser, concluding that it is an almost ideal illustration of how patents work to stimulate the development and commercialization of new technology.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: N100 Business studies
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Newcastle Business School
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2023 14:52
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2023 03:30
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/51166

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