What explains patenting behaviour during Britain's Industrial Revolution?

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A recent re-evaluation of patenting during the British Industrial Revolution argues patentees were responsive to demand-side conditions. This view does not consider supply-side factors, such as a patentee’s skill or access to financial resources, as an alternative mechanism. I exploit a rich dataset of patentee occupations to investigate the role a patentee’s economic or social background played in their patenting behaviour. I find skilled patentees were intensive users of the patent system and frequently patented more economically valuable inventions. I also find patent value mattered more than patentee skill for patent extension, which likely indicates the existence of financiers willing to back the acquisition of patents for valuable inventions. The composition of Britain’s patentees, and their use of the system, reasonably relates to the value of the inventions they sought to protect.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101426
JournalExplorations in Economic History
Early online date31 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

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© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • Incentives
  • Innovation
  • Occupations
  • Patent Institutions
  • Patent Value
  • Industrial Revolution


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