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Working Knowledge

Employee Innovation and the Rise of Corporate Intellectual Property, 1800-1930

Catherine L. Fisk

Publication Year: 2009

Skilled workers of the early nineteenth century enjoyed a degree of professional independence because workplace knowledge and technical skill were their property, or at least their attribute. In most sectors of today's economy, however, it is a foundational and widely accepted truth that businesses retain legal ownership of employee-generated intellectual property.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Studies in Legal History

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

In the twelve years I have been working on this book, I have accumulated debts so many and so great that it is impossible to acknowledge them all here. Nevertheless, in a book about the relationship between individual authorship and collaborative work, I would be remiss if I did not try. First, I thank Dan Ernst for believing this was a book...

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pp. 1-18

A foundation of the modern intellectual property regime, and of the business strategy of innovative firms throughout the economy, is the right of firms to the intellectual property produced by their employees. Today’s corporate employer typically insists on contracts...

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pp. 19-22

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the United States was a predominantly agricultural economy with little manufacturing. Most people worked in household or small-scale family or kin-based enterprises. Mainly they worked on farms...

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1. Stealing in the Dark the Improvements of Others

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pp. 23-58

In 1808, the Wilmington, Delaware, powder manufactory of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company was a sophisticated operation by the standards of American explosives manufacturing of the day. On account of its founders’ superior knowledge of the chemistry of gunpowder and its employees’ careful development of techniques for its composition...

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2. The Genius Which Conceived and the Toil Which Compiled the Book

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pp. 59-74

Just as both patents and unpatented workplace knowledge were regarded as an asset of skilled labor, so too did antebellum law treat copyrights as the property of the individual author regardless of whether the work was created for hire. Although employee-authors...

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pp. 75-86

In the years bracketing the Civil War, much changed in American law and society. The agrarian republic imagined by Jefferson disappeared with early industrialization and the rise of commerce in the North. The “market revolution” that began in the Jacksonian era — the growth of commerce within the settled East...

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3. If These Mill Owners Desire to Cripple a Man’s Enterprise and His Energy and Intelligence, They Must Contract to That Effect

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pp. 87-107

By 1860, industrialization had transformed England and was making serious headway in the United States. The transformation was both material and cultural. The Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 showed the British public, and the many visitors and exhibitors from America...

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4. An Ingenious Man Enabled by Contract

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pp. 108-136

Just as the law and culture of the workplace in the early postbellum years embraced worker control of craft and mechanical knowledge as part of the antimonopoly conception of entrepreneurship, so too did the law and culture of patenting. In 1860, the law presumed...

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5. They Claim to Own Him, Body and Soul

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pp. 137-172

Popular entertainment looms large in the nineteenth-century picture of contractual allocations of employees’ creative output. It was one of the few areas where creative people worked as employees (rather than for themselves) and where the results were sufficiently valuable...

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pp. 173-176

The modern law of corporate intellectual property was created during the same span of years that produced both the archetypes of reactionary legal conservatism and the probing critiques of law that laid the foundations of modern progressive legal thinking...

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6. Corporate Management of Science and Scientific Management of Corporations

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pp. 177-210

Many large corporations established research and development facilities in the first decade of the twentieth century to systematize invention. Innovations became more likely to be made in a research lab or in some other collective setting by someone working as an employee of a corporation. At the same time, large businesses adopted the methods...

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7. The Corporation’s Money Paid for the Painting; Its Artist Colored It; Its President Designed It

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pp. 211-239

Inventors and authors have long been imagined to be individual humans because originality and creativity are imagined to be uniquely human attributes. As patent and copyright law came to recognize the validity of corporate intellectual property in the twentieth century...

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CONCLUSION. Attribution, Authenticity, and the Corporate Production of Technology and Culture

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pp. 240-256

The growth of corporations and the rapid spread of office and factory work significantly changed the application of legal rules regarding intellectual property ownership. As is always the case with law, the changing applications ultimately changed the rules themselves...


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pp. 257-310


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pp. 311-338


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pp. 339-360

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605333
E-ISBN-10: 1469605333
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807833025
Print-ISBN-10: 0807833029

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Studies in Legal History