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

By Catherine L. Fisk | Go to book overview

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

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. As the settings in which ideas were manufactured became more “corporate”—more bureaucratic, more collective, and, quite literally, under the aegis of corporations—and as the claimants to idea ownership increasingly were corporations, what judges thought of idea ownership and how firms managed creative employees changed too. Judges came to believe that people learned workplace skills in large offices and factories rather than as apprentices in small workshops or as clerks in small offices. At the same time, judges developed a view of contract law generally, and the employment contract specifically, that operated both as a conceptual technology and as a mechanism of social control to enable a shift in idea ownership. The old legal conception of individual invention (and, therefore, individual ownership) seemed anachronistic. The acceptance of corporations as legal “persons” with all the rights and privileges of personhood provided a new legal framework to reconcile the traditionally individualist presuppositions of patent and copyright law, which focus on the author or the inventor, with the new social reality of collective innovation. The cultural change and the legal change coincided and reinforced one another in ways that naturalized the radical developments and made a revolution seem normal, inevitable, and uncontroversial.


The Dependent Corporate Engineer and the Modern Middle Class

By the third decade of the twentieth century, creative and educated people of scientific or technical skill who worked in business rather than academia had

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