This paper considers Parliament’s role in making public funds available to reward inventors in the eighteen and early nineteenth centuries. The fact that such payments were made has been noted before, but these rewards have not been the subject of any detailed analysis. This paper will argue that the system of Parliamentary rewards is significant as one of the myriad ways in which the State intervened in science and technology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It will be seen that Parliamentary rewards themselves formed part of a broader pattern of assistance for inventors that included patent term extensions authorised by Parliament and the payment of rewards by other public and quasi-public bodies. This support for inventors was present for most of the key period of Britain’s industrialisation and for this reason provides an excellent yardstick against which to measure claims about the relative merits of patents and rewards as means of incentivising research. An analysis of the reward system also suggests that our understanding of how important elements of the patent system evolved needs to be revised.

Convenors: Dev Gangjee, Emily Hudson & Robert Pitkethly. Directions to the seminar room from the Porter’s Lodge. Refreshments provided, all are welcome (registration not required).