Isis 103:328-339 (2012)

At a time when neoliberalism and financial austerity are together encouraging academic scientists to seek market alternatives to state funding, this essay investigates why, a century ago, their predecessors explicitly rejected private enterprise and the private ownership of ideas and inventions available to them through the patent system. The early twentieth century witnessed the success of a long campaign by British scientists to persuade the state to assume responsibility for the funding of basic research : their findings would enter the intellectual commons; their rewards would be primarily reputational . The essay summarizes recent research in three separate fields of British technoscience—electricity, aviation, and agricultural botany—all of which were laying claim, at this time, to a heightened commercial or military importance that raised new questions about the ownership of scientific ideas. It suggests that each of the three established an idiosyncratic relationship with the patent system or with other forms of “intellectual property,” which would both influence their emergent disciplines and affect the extent to which commercial enterprise could remain a viable funding strategy
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DOI 10.1086/666359
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