Collective Invention of Steam Engines
Collective Invention of Steam Engines discussed in Lean’s Engine Reporter (1811-1904)
"Steam engines had been around since 1712 but in 1769 James Watt patented a new, much more efficient design for them. Despite legal attacks on his patent, it was upheld until 1800. Mine owners in the Cornwall region of England used steam engines to pump water out of mines, sometimes using illegal copies of Watt’s design. Mine owners and steam engine makers resented Watt’s unwillingness to license the invention cheaply. After Watt’s patent expired they could legally make modifications to the design. There was an explicit debate on alternative forms of intellectual property rights among the steam engine engineers. Few actually filed patents. Rather, there was a collective invention environment, as shown by Nuvolari (2002).
Starting in 1811 there was a publication read by the Cornish steam engine makers, called Lean’s Engine Reporter for its editor, Joel Lean. Its contents were technical comparisons of operating steam engines. Nuvolari (2001) establishes that the efficiency of steam engines improved substantially in Cornwall through this period, probably through many minor or unattributed innovations and discoveries by the steam engine engineers. Collective invention sustained by the Reporter thus supported useful engineering improvements." (http://opensource.mit.edu/papers/meyer.pdf)