Boston University School of Law

Knowledge Sharing among Inventors:
Some Historical Perspectives

James E. Bessen
(Boston University School of Law)

Alessandro Nuvolari
(Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies)

Boston University School of Law Working Paper 11-51
LEM Working Paper 2011/21


This chapter documents instances from past centuries where inventors freely shared knowledge of their innovations with other inventors. It is widely believed that such knowledge sharing is a recent development, as in Open Source Software. Our survey shows, instead, that innovators have long practiced “collective invention” at times, including inventions in such key technologies as steam engines, iron, steel, and textiles. Generally, innovator behavior was substantially richer than the heroic portrayal often found in textbooks and museums. Knowledge sharing promoted innovation, sometimes coexisting with patents, at other times, not, suggesting that policy should foster both knowledge sharing and invention incentives.

Key words: technological change, knowledge sharing, collective invention, patents

JEL codes: N70, O33, O34

Size: 88 KB

James E. Bessen Contact Information

Alessandro Nuvolari Contact Information
LEM (Laboratory of Economics and Management)
Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies
Piazza Martiri della Libertà 33,
56127 Pisa, Italy

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