Patents and invention in Jamaica and the British Atlantic before 1857 †

Aaron Graham
Published Online:
29 Jul 2020
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Abstract Before 1852 the English patent system operated at both a domestic and a global level, allowing inventors to extend its operation beyond England to the colonies, where it interacted in territories such as Jamaica with a colonial system of patents and grants. It therefore provides one of the few examples of a workable global patent system, and an important case study of the structures that supported the development and circulation of technology within the British Atlantic during the early stages of the industrial revolution. Providing a framework of ‘tiered’ rather than ‘parallel’ powers and jurisdictions, the imperial patent system was a flexible instrument that inventors could use strategically to promote transnational technological innovation, in which people, ideas, and skills moved back and forth between Britain and colonies such as Jamaica. Patenting, which was concentrated in wealthy plantation colonies that sought greater productivity, was therefore a key part of the economic development of empire.

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