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Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets: Intellectual Piracy and the Origins of American Industrial Power

Doron S. Ben-Atar
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Trade Secrets
    Book Description:

    During the first decades of America's existence as a nation, private citizens, voluntary associations, and government officials encouraged the smuggling of European inventions and artisans to the New World. At the same time, the young republic was developing policies that set new standards for protecting industrial innovations. This book traces the evolution of America's contradictory approach to intellectual property rights from the colonial period to the age of Jackson.

    During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries Britain shared technological innovations selectively with its American colonies. It became less willing to do so once America's fledgling industries grew more competitive. After the Revolution, the leaders of the republic supported the piracy of European technology in order to promote the economic strength and political independence of the new nation. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States became a leader among industrializing nations and a major exporter of technology. It erased from national memory its years of piracy and became the world's foremost advocate of international laws regulating intellectual property.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12721-8
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    Who hasn’t heard of Eli Whitney and his cotton gin? Every schoolchild, from New England to the Middle East, learns of the mechanical whiz who went down south in the early 1790s and developed a contraption that separated the cottonseed from its surrounding fiber. Whitney’s machine removed the most daunting obstacle to the production of cotton—the labor-intensive process of separation—and made the growing of short-staple cotton economically profitable. It revived southern agriculture, boosted western expansion, generated capital for northern industrialization, and entrenched the American addiction to chattel slavery. The man who left his mark on every major aspect...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Knowledge as Property in the International State System
    (pp. 1-17)

    Intellectual property is a historical development of the last five hundred years. In the ancient world, once a machine was developed and gained acceptance, its fate was beyond the inventors’ control. Inventions were distinct forms of nonmaterial commodities that did not have a specific value in the marketplace. Neither Greek nor Roman law protected intellectual property, though accusations of theft of knowledge and plagiarism were not uncommon. The value of technical knowledge was embodied in the product. Ancient artisans did not distinguish between the processes and technical skills they used and the goods they made.

    Notions of knowledge as a...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Battle over Technology within the Empire
    (pp. 18-43)

    When England began colonizing the North American continent early in the seventeenth century, no imperial statesman envisioned that these struggling outposts could become actual economic rivals. With the country torn by dynastic and civil wars, and hardly the center of industry and innovation, early imperial policy did not regulate the transfer of technology between the metropolis and the peripheries, assuming that at best the colonies would become sources of raw materials and potential markets. The nature of the economic and technological relationship between England and its North American continental colonies was transformed over the one hundred and seventy years of...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Benjamin Franklin and America’s Technology Deficit
    (pp. 44-77)

    In 1784, shortly after concluding the peace treaty with England, Benjamin Franklin published in France a short pamphlet entitledInformation to Those Who Would Remove to America, advising those planning to immigrate that opportunities in the New World were limited. Why did the man who celebrated America’s demographic boom for much of his life, and who had a very high opinion of economic opportunities in the New World, write such a discouraging pamphlet? Franklin explained that numerous prospective emigrants had approached him with questions and requests that attested to their “mistaken ideas and expectations of what is to be obtained...

  8. CHAPTER 4 After the Revolution “The American Seduction of Machines and Artisans”
    (pp. 78-103)

    In the second week of November 1787, Phineas Bond, British consul in Philadelphia, received a visit from two English nationals. Thomas Edemsor, a cotton merchant from Manchester, and Henry Royle, a calico printer from Chadkirk in Cheshire, were greatly distressed. They feared lynching at the hands of a mob led by the city’s leading merchants and they looked to the envoy of His Britannic Majesty’s government for shelter. Their story went as follows.

    In 1783, concurrent with British recognition of American independence, an Englishman named Benjamin H. Phillips determined to establish a cotton manufactory in America. In spite of severe...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Official Orchestration of Technology Smuggling
    (pp. 104-141)

    On June 3, 1790, the first Congress under the newly ratified Constitution faced the question of subsidizing the transfer of technology. A group of glassmakers from New Bremen, Maryland, requested compensation for the cost of traveling from Germany and setting up a factory in the United States. A Congressional committee considered the matter and recommended lending John Fried Amelung, the group’s leader and primary investor, eight thousand dollars. The money was to compensate him for the costs of bringing hundreds of European glass workers, reasoning that “a manufactory attended with so much difficulty in its commencement, so important in its...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Constructing the American Understanding of Intellectual Property
    (pp. 142-183)

    When Thomas Attwood Digges was twenty-six years old, he sailed from the British colonies to Europe in hopes of gaining fame and fortune. Born in 1742, this son of one of Maryland’s most prominent Catholic families thought he was destined for greatness. After some early troubles in his teen years—Digges was somewhat of a kleptomaniac—he moved to Europe in the late 1760s, settled in Portugal, and engaged in international trade. At the same time he began working on a novel. In 1774 Digges moved to London; legal troubles with Portuguese authorities provided the push and love for an...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Path to Crystal Palace
    (pp. 184-214)

    In 1804, seventeen years after its launching, the Pennsylvania Society for the Encouragement of Manufactures and the Useful Arts asked its most prominent founder, Tench Coxe, to prepare a report on the state of manufactures in the United States in general, and in Pennsylvania in particular. The public career of the preeminent champion of American manufacturing, which had looked so promising from the mid 1780s through his tenure as assistant secretary of the Treasury under Hamilton, had reached a dead end. In the heated partisan struggles of the 1790s Coxe left the Federalists for the Republicans. In the election of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 215-268)
  13. Index
    (pp. 269-282)