Knowledge Sharing Among Inventors: Some Historical Perspectives

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.