« PreviousContinue »
fuel is the calorific intensity maintained by the hot-blast, as compared with the cold :
* The air of hot-blast enters the furnace already highly expanded, and in so far the loss of heat required for this degree of expansion is
Moreover, immediately on leaving the twyer, the blast, owing to the absence of noses, comes in direct contact with the incandescent fuel, and produces great elevation of temperature. . . . To the question, why should hot-blast cause quicker combustion than cold-blast, I can give no satisfactory answer, any more than I can to the question, why should certain bodies dissolve in much larger proportion in hot than in cold water. At present we must be content with the simple enunciation of both these facts, although we may reasonably expect that hereafter something like a solution of them may be arrived at.'
The invention and general adoption of the hot-blast-improved by the water-twyer of Condie, without which it would have proved of much less value--had the effect of immensely increasing the production of Scotch pig-iron. As Black-band was found underlying most of the midland Scotch countiesthe coal and iron measures extending in a broad belt from the Frith of Forth to the Frith of Clyde—the facilities for production afforded by the new invention, together with the steady increase in the demand for iron, led to a rapid extension of the manufactare. In the year that Neilson took out his patent the total produce of the Scotch mines was only 29,000 tons of pig-iron; in twenty-five years it had increased to half a million tons; and it now considerably exceeds a million. All land containing Blackband has risen immensely in value. Mr. Mushet mentions the case of the proprietor of the Airdrie estate, who, in 1839, was deriving a royalty of 16,5001, from the mineral, which before had not yielded him one farthing. Great iron manufacturing firms sprang up and accumulated large fortunes, the first employment of which was to dispute the invention which had made them; and Neilson had to defend his patent right during five years, in the course of which he fought twenty actions in Scotland, besides others in England, at enormous expense, the result of which, however, was to establish the originality and merit of his invention and to secure him in the possession of his rights during the term of his patent.
Although the subject of Patent-right does not, strictly speaking, fall within the scope of Dr. Percy's work, he cannot avoid coming across it from time to time in describing the numerous improvements in the manufacture of metals to which recent inventions have given birth. Manufacturers, as a rule, dislike schemers. "The Lord deliver me,' said one ironmaster, fervently, 'from
this restless and mischief-making race!' So long as manufacturers are carrying on a prosperous trade, they have no desire for new inventions, which, if successful, only bave the effect of compelling them to introduce alterations in their machinery and new modes of manufacture, for the purpose of meeting the competition which they stimulate. Manufacturers also bear a grudge against inventors for the royalties payable to them under their patents, and think it hard that they should be debarred from freely adopting, without any such restriction, the best methods which have been discovered for producing the largest quantity of metal in the shortest time and at the lowest price. They consider patents not only an annoyance and obstruction, but the cause of a diminution in their profits,—to which, of course, they very much object.
Engineers, also, are often found declaiming against patents for the same reason, and the late Mr. Brunel enunciated the opinion that when a workman brought forward a new invention or improvement in machinery worthy of adoption, if he was paid a sovereign or so for his trouble, it was reward enough. One wealthy iron manufacturer coolly declared to Dr. Percy that 'brains are more abundant in the world than capital, and ought, therefore, to be had cheap. Hence the resistance which has so often been offered, first, to the introduction of inventions, and next to the payment of royalty to the inventors when their use has become indispensable. As Crawshay, the iron potentate of South Wales, resisted the claims of Cort, so Baird, the iron potentate of Scotland, resisted the claims of Neilson. Hence, too, the Cornish mining interest resisted the claims of Boulton and Watt for royalty on their condensing engine, without which their mines must have remained drowned by water, and could not possibly have been worked to a profit. The argument of the Cornish mine-owners was, that the new pumping-engine was necessary for their very existence, and that the restriction of its use by payment of royalty to the inventor was prejudicial not only to their individual interests but to the interest of the public at large.
Such, also, is Sir William Armstrong's view of the inexpediency of patent-rights, as quoted by Dr. Percy : • That dauntless spirit,' says Sir William, which in matters of commerce has led this country to cast off the trammels of protection, has resulted in augmented prosperity to the nation, showing the injurious tendencies of class legislation when opposed to general freedom of action. Would that the same bold and enlightened policy were extended, in some degree, at least, to matters of invention. Under our present Patent Law we are borne down
with an excess of protection. But carry out the idea. It is not necessary to stop short at inventions. These are only one class of products of the skill and industry of man. Why should any product of brainwork or of labour be protected ? Why should Copyright in works of art or in books?
Sir William Armstrong also urges the view that the prestige of successful invention would, as a rule, bring with it sufficient reward, and that protection might be entirely dispensed with.' Such, too, was the argument used by the Bolton cotton-manufacturers when they urged Samuel Crompton not to take out a patent for his invention of the Self-acting Mule, but to make it free to the public. Unfortunately for himself, he acted upon their advice, every one knows with what result. The cottonmanufacturers of Bolton and elsewhere made immense fortunes by means of Crompton's invention, while he himself died in poverty.
Sir William Armstrong further insists that practical men who, like Watt and George Stephenson, devote the best part of their lives to perfecting inventions of immense importance to the world, seldom derive from patents any greater emolument than would flow to them without the aid of a restrictive system, while they are frequently involved in tormenting litigation about priority of idea. But do the advocates of the abolition of patent-right suppose that Watt would have borne up through the laborious toil connected with the invention of his condensingengine for more than twenty mortal years, had he known that, immediately on the invention being perfected, every mine-owner and manufacturer would be free to use it without making any compensation whatever to him for his labour and his skill? As it was, no sooner had he shown his first pumping-engine at work in Cornwall than he was fallen upon by pirates, who sought to rob him of the fruits of his industry; and there is not the slightest doubt that, but for the protection granted him by Parliament and the energetic support of his partner Boulton, Watt would have died as poor and ill-rewarded for his invention as the inventor of the Self-acting Mule. As for George Stephenson, he was not an original inventor so much as a ready adopter and skilful adapter of the inventions of others,-a shrewd, practical man, who did not hesitate to make use of any arrangement that seemed best suited for his purpose ; and if he did not make money by the patents which he himself took out, it was because they were of comparatively little value.
It is quite true that the original inventor, even when protected by
patent, very often does not reap the reward of his labour; but that is no reason for withholding the inducement of the reward
from those who are willing to compete for it. Take, for example, the following important problem which Dr. Percy sets for inventors to solve: To the coal-masters of South Staffordshire,' he says, 'an economical solution of the problem of coking the thick-coal slack would be of immense value. A prodigious amount of the fine slack has been and still continues to be left in the pits, because it cannot be raised with profit* I have no doubt that should any person be so fortunate as to succeed in converting this at present worthless material into good coke, at a moderate cost, he would realise a large fortune ; and he would, moreover, have the satisfaction of prolonging the industrial life of South Staffordshire, which has begun to suffer from the exhaustion of its fuel.' But no man of ingenuity and skill would devote his time and labour to the solution of a problem like this, important though it be to the national industry, without the hope of some adequate reward. If every coalowner were free to appropriate the invention, so soon as made, to his own use, the public interest would doubtless gain, but the inventor himself would be sacrificed.
It seems quite reasonable that if a man gives his labour and skill to perfecting an invention calculated to be of public utility, he should be remunerated for it. The method heretofore adopted has been to grant the privilege of a patent for a limited term, conditional on the inventor specifying and publishing the nature of the invention. Should it come into general use during that term, the inventor is compensated by the payment of royalty; after which the invention becomes public property—the possession of mankind at large. Before the granting of patents was adopted, inventors were accustomed to make a mystery of their arts; they worked in secret, they placed nothing on record, and hence their knowledge often died with them. Thus, there is no doubt, many valuable inventions became for a time lost to the race, and human progress was retarded. The limited privilege conferred by a patent is surely not too great a price to pay for any invention of value ; nor can it be necessary to despoil the inventor by applying to him the principles, not of free-trading, but of free-booting, in the alleged interest of the public.
It is quite true that many patents of a trivial character are granted, which prove nothing but hindrances and blocks in the way of invention, and only act as so many shackles upon industry. Thus Dr. Percy mentions cases in which patents have been granted for extracting copper from silicious ores by means of
* It is estimated that, besides 96,000,000 tons of coal raised in 1865, 20,000,000 tons of small coal was left in the pits, or otherwise wasted. The late Nicholas Wood stated a few years since that the annual waste at the Hetton and Black Boy Colleries alone amounted to 160,000 tons !
acids, and from sulphuretted ores after calcination by the same means! This is not only absurd but unjust :
That a man,' says Dr. Percy, ' who has worked out an original and valuable process from his own brain, and who may have incurred great expense in bringing it to a practical issue—it may be for years of protracted toil and anxiety-should have secured to him by law during a moderate term the exclusive privilege of reaping the substantial reward of his own invention, appears to me as just and reasonable as that an author should be protected against piratical and unprincipled publishers. But that the law should confer upon a man the exclusive right of appropriating to his own benefit facts which are perfectly familiar to every tyro of chemistry, and of practising operations which are of daily occurrence in the laboratories of chemists, is as unpolitic as it is unjust. . . . I cordially subscribe to the opinion expressed by Mr. Grove, Q.C., that the real object of patent law was "to reward, not trivial inventions, which stop the way to greater improvements, but substantial boons to the public-not changes such as any experimentalist makes a score a day in his laboratory, but substantial practical discoveries, developed into an available form.”
There cannot be a doubt that measures ought to be taken to stop the indiscriminate granting of patents, and that this exceptional reward ought to be jealously reserved for discoveries of great value, and not lavished as it is upon petty contrivances of little or no use to the public.
Among the more important patents which have been taken out of late years in connection with the manufacture of iron, are those of Mr. Bessemer for the direct conversion of pig-iron into steel, and which promise to lead to even more important results than the inventions of Cort.
The manifold uses of Steel have long been known. It is produced in many forms, such as raw steel, puddled steel, shear steel, and cast steel, each of which has its special value and uses. But advanced though the art of steel-making may be, the science of steel-making is still imperfect, and chemists and metallurg are to this day disputing whether carbon or nitrogen is the element that converts iron into steel. That the metal consists of iron in combination with carbon admits of no doubt, and many are the processes which have been invented for introducing the carbon into the malleable iron on the one hand, or retaining the carbon in the pig-iron on the other, for the purpose of producing the different qualities.
The ancient method of making steel, though rude, was remarkably effectual; and to this day the Hindoo iron-smelter, who builds his clay furnace, lights within it his fire of wood, and charges it with iron ore-urging the flame by blasts of his sheep