According to Alessandro Nuvolari (348), collective invention refers to a situation where a firm shares its technological know-how with its competitors. Firms share information on concept and functioning of new technologies freely with one another. It was first noted in iron industry of Cleveland in the United Kingdom. Iron producers had new innovations in the industry and they freely disclosed information on performance and construction of new blast furnaces they had installed (Alessandro 348).
In addition, the information was not protected to allow the competing firms to utilize it wholly. Alessandro (349) noted that sharing these insights resulted to increased blast temperature and height of the furnaces. As a result, production costs and consumption of fuel decreased.
The major similarity between collective invention and heroic individual invention is that both provided important source of innovations during the early stages of industrialization. Historians emphasize that early stages of industrialization were characterized by individual contributions, commonly referred to as “heroic age” (Alessandro 347).
The main feature of heroic age was individual contribution towards technological development. However, during the early stages of industrialization competing firms shared information freely, for example, the iron producers’ case. Therefore, both collective and heroic individual inventions contributed to technological advances in early phases of industrialization.
Use of patent system to protect individual inventors in heroic individual inventions differentiates it from collective inventions (Alessandro 349). For example, in Britain, inventive activities are rewarded, therefore a legal system has been set up to protect the rights of inventors.
Use of patent system is associated with economical gain, which has resulted to increased individual inventors. In addition, Alessandro (350) stated that patents protect information and it is sold to firms by individual inventors, for instance, the case of American glass industry (351).
On contrary, in collective invention, the information is freely shared and it is not protected by patents. An example of collective invention is the case study of Cornish mining district. After discovery of steam power, publications were made on features, operating processes and performance of each engine. As a result, competing companies adopted practice and created a competitive environment (Alessandro, 354).
According to Alessandro, incremental invention is subjecting new technology to a process of improvements to acquire its full economic and technical potential (347). Collective and incremental inventions are related and interdependent processes. For example, mining activities at Cornish district were affected by flooding.
Steam power was utilized to mine drainage effectively. After numerous technical experiments, the steam pumping engine was developed to address the problem. In addition, the full potential of the steam power was realized (Alessandro 352). The above process is an illustration of the incremental improvements during industrial revolution.
The final results were freely shared to other competing companies: a characteristic of collective invention. Alessandro (359) notes that the practice of steam power was adopted by other competitors and the process of incremental improvement continued. Additional invention favors collective invention and supports technology sharing (Alessandro 360).
Alessandro argues that collective and incremental inventions contributed more in early stages of industrial revolution compared to own inventions (361). The incremental improvement originates from users and producers of a technological idea.
Alessandro, Nuvolari. “Collective invention during the British Industrial Revolution: the case of the Cornish pumping engine.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 28.3 (2004): 347-363. Print.