Owning and disowning invention: intellectual property, authority and identity in British science and technology, 1880-1920.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Philosophy

Abstract

Accustomed views on science, technology and society have recently become unsettled. As the much-publicized closure of chemistry and physics departments at UK universities has illuminated, there is no longer a presumption that basic research deserves public funding. Academic scientists meanwhile have become increasingly entrepreneurial, turning their backs on seemingly old and stable ideals of disinterested inquiry to revert to the pursuit of patents and profits. At the same time, genomics, the Internet and other recent developments in 'techno-science' have shifted the boundaries of what counts as 'intellectual property', blurring distinctions between discovery and invention, originality and imitation, secrecy and openness. Important general concerns have thus been raised about the ownership of knowledge that have major implications for the public.

In debate over these concerns, history has all too often been exploited to defend self-interested positions 'for' or 'against' restrictions on the ownership of new kinds of intellectual property. Distinctly lacking has been the kind of historical perspective that might render the past genuinely useful to inform present day concerns. This project thus looks at how issues of intellectual property originally became a major problem for science and technology at the turn of the twentieth century. Investigating how scientists were first able to shed their reliance on patents for funding, and indeed develop alternative modes of intellectual property will indicate the extent to which - ironically - our society has come full circle in encouraging techno-scientists once again to become patent-driven entrepreneurs. Going back to c.1900 for insight on these matters will hold up a mirror to the present, showing how things then were interestingly similar and yet instructively different to our current situation.

Two major themes of public importance emerge from this. First, the popular idea that invention has always been the application of ideas from 'pure science' to practical matters turns out to be a crude myth. This one-way conception of how pure science supposedly inspires invention is a very recent phenomenon, and has only been plausible since the early twentieth century. This project explains how that conception first came to be tenable during World War 1 by looking at how scientists and engineers sought government funding in order to escape the problems of being obliged to rely upon patenting for financial income. The second closely related theme is that forcing scientists and engineers to become financially reliant upon the benefits of intellectual property - as was often the case before 1914 - could seriously compromise their capacity for producing authoritative and disinterested knowledge. This historical insight is offered with a view to informing debates about the merits of compelling scientists to pursue their research in a manner that is entirely self-funding.

Finally, the project addresses present day concerns by considering three areas of techno-science to track how their early development raised problems in intellectual property. The most creative and controversial area of technology in the late nineteenth century was electrical engineering. Everyone had a stake in the development of the telephone, electric light and wireless as domestic technologies. Yet the subtly immaterial character of electricity posed major problems for defining the technical character of these innovations and thus who could claim to have 'authored' them, just as the ownership of immaterial information and software bedevils our equivalent 'boom technology' of computing. The early history of licensed plant breeding similarly foreshadows the rise of patenting life forms in biotechnology, while modern aerospace engineers share aeronautic pioneers' concern about secrecy in publicly funded research. Thisproject thus offers insights that may help to resolve today's conflicts over intellectual property.

Publications

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Arapostathis S (2013) Electrical technoscience and physics in transition, 1880-1920 in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A

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Arapostathis S (2013) Meters, patents and expertise(s): Knowledge networks in the electricity meters industry, 1880-1914 in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A

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Charnley B (2013) Intellectual property, plant breeding and the making of Mendelian genetics in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A

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Charnley B (2013) Experiments in empire-building: Mendelian genetics as a national, imperial, and global agricultural enterprise in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A

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Christine MacLeod (2013) "A delicate business": Wartime airplane designs and their post-war evaluation, 1919-1924 in Studies in History & Philosophy of Science A

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Gooday G (2013) Combative patenting: Military entrepreneurship in First World War telecommunications in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A

 
Description Accustomed views on science, technology and society have recently become unsettled. As the much-publicized closure of chemistry and physics departments at UK universities has illuminated, there is no longer a presumption that basic research deserves public funding. Academic scientists meanwhile have become increasingly entrepreneurial, turning their backs on ideals of disinterested inquiry to profit from patents. At the same time, genomics, the Internet and other recent developments in 'techno-science' have shifted the boundaries of what counts as 'intellectual property' (IP) in way that raise important public concerns about access to, and management of, new research.

In debates over IP, history has all too often been exploited to defend self-interested positions 'for' or 'against' restrictions on IP rights. Distinctly lacking has been the kind of historical perspective that looks to the past to inform present day concerns. This project thus looked at how IP issues originally became a major problem for science and technology at the turn of the twentieth century. We investigated why scientists shed their reliance on entrepreneurship, especially patent-related forms, to fund early 20th century research. This shows the irony of our society's move full circle to encourage techno-scientists once again to become entrepreneurs. In going back to c.1900 we found that while much was surprisingly different, there were also important similarities to our current situation concerning the tensions created by giving IP a central role in research.

Two major themes of public importance emerge. First we show that UK scientists' ambivalence about reliance upon entrepreneurial - especially patent-related activities - to fund their research prompted them to seek government funding instead. This call was eventually met by the exigencies of the First World War for which state-managed research for telecommunications, agriculture and aircraft production proved essential, continuing for decades afterwards. Second we show how understanding this development informs critique of the crude myth that 'pure science' is necessary to achieve technological innovations. First we show the inaccuracy of this myth by showing how, research and its applications generally co-evolved. Yet we show there were also two rhetorical benefits to presenting 'pure science' disconnected from industry as essential for advanced innovation. This myth was used both to promote the disinterestedness and thus public authority of scientists, and also to supply governments with a narrative to justify expenditure of tax-payers' funding on "pure" research. Science after the Great War discarded the invidious conflictual pursuit of IP but at the price of saddling itself with a questionable ideology of pure science.

To accomplish this overall picture of shifting IP relations, we compared three areas of innovative techno-science c.1900: electricity, aeronautics and botany. Overall the 21st century notion of "intellectual property" proved problematic: the management of knowledge was then seen more in terms of the legitimacy of knowledge monopolies, whether achieved via patenting or through disciplinary appropriation. Bell and Edison's use of patents on telecommunications and lighting to achieve lucrative monopolies brought moral dilemmas for electrical scientists hired to argue against each other in patent litigation. There were similar anxieties about whether amateur breeders, growers, farmers or (Mendelian) scientists were best placed to control the agenda of plant breeding and authenticate the products of research. And early aeronautics raised tricky questions about what rights aircraft makers had over their creations vis-a-vis governments who were both their clientele and the arbiters of their IP rights. Overall this project thus showed how concern with IP issues raised disruptive conflicts in research in ways that varied radically across fields, but resiliently through time.
Exploitation Route i) National Institute of Agricultural Botany (Cambridge) - Radick and Charnley have produced historical material that has not only developed a fresh account of NIAB wartime contribution in developing more new breeds for wheat production, but also examined the role of NIAB in the longer term introductions of Mendelian genetics to agricultural botany. These points will be further developed in a HEIF funded impact project during 2011 in which Charnley will serve as Impact Officer.

ii) The Thackray Museum of Medicine (Leeds) has developed a strong interest in the early development in the medical industry (late nineteenth to early twentieth century). It thus welcomes input of this project's expertise on patenting to its collections displays, especially of electrically related equipment, as well as the training of curatorial and educational staff more generally in interpreting the patents of many of their collections. Gooday has submitted an application for an AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship to support this endeavour.

iii) The Institution of Engineering and Technology (London) will benefit from Arapostathis and Gooday's study of IP disputes in electrical lighting, power, telephony and wireless involving members of its predecessor institution the Institution of Electrical Engineers between 1878 and 1927 - notably Joseph Swan, Oliver Lodge, Guglielmo Marconi etc [more], all at least partially documented in the IET's archives. Of particular interest is the way that the IEE censured the United Telephone Company for its monopolistic use of the Bell-Edison telephone patents in the 1880s. Material from this project will be made available as short case studies on its website.

iv) BT archives (London), now repository of the archives of the Post Office which managed the state monopoly on telephony and wireless in the period covered by this project, will be offered materials for its BT Connected Earth web resource at http://www.connected-earth.com/ . These will illustrated materials in the BT archives used by Arapostathis and Gooday relating both to the United Telephone Company's patent management and to Marconi's ambivalent relations with the Post Office given his early patenting of wireless technology. (Both topics were covered in the volume Patently Contestable).

v) Research Policy analysts in Government will benefit from the demonstration that increased government funding has been at least a successful solution to the political and economic problems of managing knowledge in an entrepreneural context - for WW1. In addition, organizing a division of labour in creativity around pure and applied science reinstates the problematic friction between different groups, and other less hierarchical approaches are better for productive partnerships of academics and industrial collaborators. There is evidence here that moving back to stronger patent rights for scientists would create friction and conflict that are not in the best interests either of the public or of science.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://owninganddisowninginvention.org/
 
Description i) National Institute of Agricultural Botany (Cambridge) - Radick and Charnley have produced historical material that has not only developed a fresh account of NIAB wartime contribution in developing more new breeds for wheat production, but also examined the role of NIAB in the longer term introductions of Mendelian genetics to agricultural botany. These points will be further developed in a HEIF funded impact project during 2011 in which Charnley will serve as Impact Officer. ii) The Thackray Museum of Medicine (Leeds) has developed a strong interest in the early development in the medical industry (late nineteenth to early twentieth century). It thus welcomes input of this project's expertise on patenting to its collections displays, especially of electrically related equipment, as well as the training of curatorial and educational staff more generally in interpreting the patents of many of their collections. Gooday has submitted an application for an AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship to support this endeavour. iii) The Institution of Engineering and Technology (London) will benefit from Arapostathis and Gooday's study of IP disputes in electrical lighting, power, telephony and wireless involving members of its predecessor institution the Institution of Electrical Engineers between 1878 and 1927 - notably Joseph Swan, Oliver Lodge, Guglielmo Marconi etc [more], all at least partially documented in the IET's archives. Of particular interest is the way that the IEE censured the United Telephone Company for its monopolistic use of the Bell-Edison telephone patents in the 1880s. Material from this project will be made available as short case studies on its website. iv) BT archives (London), now repository of the archives of the Post Office which managed the state monopoly on telephony and wireless in the period covered by this project, will be offered materials for its BT Connected Earth web resource at http://www.connected-earth.com/ . These will illustrated materials in the BT archives used by Arapostathis and Gooday relating both to the United Telephone Company's patent management and to Marconi's ambivalent relations with the Post Office given his early patenting of wireless technology. (Both topics were covered in the volume Patently Contestable).
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services