Talking About Steam Engines...

Discussion in 'NZ Computing' started by Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Apr 12, 2010.

  1. Talking about steam engines and patents:

    In late 1764, while repairing a small Newcomen steam
    engine, the idea of allowing steam to expand and condense in
    separate containers sprang into the mind of James Watt. He spent
    the next few months in unceasing labor building a model of the
    new engine. In 1768, after a series of improvements and substantial
    borrowing, he applied for a patent on the idea, requiring him to
    travel to London in August. He spent the next six months working
    hard to obtain his patent. It was finally awarded in January of the
    following year. Nothing much happened by way of production
    until 1775. Then, with a major effort supported by his business
    partner, the rich industrialist Matthew Boulton, Watt secured an
    Act of Parliament extending his patent until the year 1800. The
    great statesman Edmund Burke spoke eloquently in Parliament in
    the name of economic freedom and against the creation of
    unnecessary monopoly – but to no avail.1 The connections of
    Watt’s partner Boulton were too solid to be defeated by simple
    principle.

    Once Watt’s patents were secured and production started, a
    substantial portion of his energy was devoted to fending off rival
    inventors. In 1782, Watt secured an additional patent, made
    “necessary in consequence of ... having been so unfairly
    anticipated, by [Matthew] Wasborough in the crank motion.â€2
    More dramatically, in the 1790s, when the superior Hornblower
    engine was put into production, Boulton and Watt went after him
    with the full force of the legal system.3
    During the period of Watt’s patents the U.K. added about
    750 horsepower of steam engines per year. In the thirty years
    following Watt’s patents, additional horsepower was added at a
    rate of more than 4,000 per year. Moreover, the fuel efficiency of
    steam engines changed little during the period of Watt’s patent;
    while between 1810 and 1835 it is estimated to have increased by a
    factor of five.4

    After the expiration of Watt’s patents, not only was there
    an explosion in the production and efficiency of engines, but steam
    power came into its own as the driving force of the industrial
    revolution. Over a thirty year period steam engines were modified
    and improved as crucial innovations such as the steam train, the
    steamboat and the steam jenny came into wide usage. The key
    innovation was the high-pressure steam engine – development of
    which had been blocked by Watt’s strategic use of his patent.

    That’s the opening from Chapter 1 of Boldron & Levine’s “Against
    Intellectual Monopolyâ€, which you can download and read from here
    <http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/intellectual/againstfinal.htm>.
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Apr 12, 2010
    #1
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