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Obtaining a Royal Privilege in France for the Watt Engine, 1776-1786

By Paul Naegel and Pierre Teissier

Abstract

International audienceBased on unpublished correspondence and legal acts, the article tells an unknown episode of Boulton and Watt’s entrepreneurial saga in eighteenth-century Europe. While the Watt engine had been patented in 1769 in Britain, the two associates sought to protect their invention across the Channel in the 1770s. They coordinated a pragmatic strategy to enrol native allies who helped them to obtain in 1778 an exclusive privilege from the King’s Council to exploit their engine but this had the express condition of its superiority being proven before experts of the Royal Academy of Science. As comparative trials could never take place, the privilege proved useless. The French adventure was all the more a failure because two former allies, the Périer brothers, misused Boulton and Watt’s trust and used their know-how and connections to sell counterfeits of the Watt engine. This unfortunate episode contrasts with Boulton and Watt’s well-known success story in England and suggests the redrawing of the general picture of technology transfer from Britain to France in the Age of Enlightenment

Topics: Watt engine, royal privilege, patent, technology transfer, eighteenth century Europe., [SHS.HISPHILSO]Humanities and Social Sciences/History, Philosophy and Sociology of Sciences
Publisher: 'Maney Publishing'
Year: 2013
DOI identifier: 10.1179/1758120612Z.00000000021
OAI identifier: oai:HAL:hal-01591127v1
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