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The Rate and Direction of Invention in the British Industrial Revolution: Incentives and Institutions

The Rate and Direction of Invention in the British Industrial Revolution: Incentives and Institutions

Chapter:
(p.443) 9 The Rate and Direction of Invention in the British Industrial Revolution: Incentives and Institutions
Source:
The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity Revisited
Author(s):
Ralf R. MeisenzahlJoel Mokyr
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226473062.003.0013

This chapter offers an economic history approach to the peculiar nature of innovators and their motivations and interests during the British Industrial Revolution. The analysis focuses in particular on the body of individuals who advanced technology and innovation during this period. Moving beyond the celebration of specific individuals responsible for macroinventions such as the steam engine, it looks at “tweakers”—individuals involved in the process of incremental improvement and refinement central to cumulative technical progress. The analysis builds on a novel database of such individuals, and offers a portrait of their careers. Formal intellectual property rights such as patents likely played (at best) a limited role in the incentives and compensation of tweakers. Instead, their primary incentives seem to be related to the reputation-based and first-mover advantages associated with innovation, as well as the rewards to be gained through prize mechanisms or nonpecuniary rewards such as membership in societies and the like.

Keywords:   British Industrial Revolution, incentive, technology, innovation, macroinvention

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