Leo Baekeland’s Transatlantic Struggle for Bakelite: Patenting Inside and Outside of America

This article analyzes Leo Baekeland’s efforts to secure patent protection on “Bakelite,” the synthetic plastic resin that he invented in 1907, and to exploit the resulting intellectual property rights. It connects the transfer of Baekeland’s intellectual property (IP) to a German-based company with Baekeland’s entrepreneurial choices and IP record in the United States. It also shows that Baekeland’s experiences with European patent regimes shaped his criticism of the U.S. model. His attempts to address perceived shortcomings of the U.S. patent regime, however, did not lead to a satisfactory outcome.