In this paper we argue that what Robert Allen has termed as collective invention settings (that is settings in which competing firms share technological knowledge) were a crucial source of innovation during the early phases of industrialization. Until now this has been very little considered in the literature, which has focussed on the patent system as the main institutional arrangement driving the rate of innovation. The paper presents one of these collective invention settings, the Cornish mining district, in detail. We study the specific economic and technical circumstances that led to the emergence of this collective invention setting and we analyse its consequences on the rate of technological innovation.
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