Past Historic 8: Charles Dickens and 'The Poor Man's Tale of a Patent'

The eighth item in the little bundle of photocopied pieces on IP history which this Kat researched and wrote back in the 1980s, when he was still a full-time academic, is by far the longest and is very much one of his favourites. It's an annotated version of a short story, 'A Poor Man's Tale of a Patent', the sad story of a provincial inventor who set off for London in order to obtain a patent, only to cover that the patent application process was an expensive and frustrating one which took all of ... six weeks.

Charles Dickens' interest in intellectual property is best known with respect to his campaign for adequate copyright protection for authors whose works were not first published in the United States and which could therefore be reproduced and recited there with impunity. Indeed, in Dickens' day, the United States when viewed from the perspective of European authors was not unlike the internet today -- a vast, relatively ungovernable region in which the regular rules of intellectual property either did not apply or could not easily be enforced. One wonders what choice words Dickens would have had for the Google Book project, had he been alive today.

You can access this Dickens' tale, together with this Kat's introduction and annotations, which was originally published as a slender monograph by ESC Publishing Ltd -- another name from the grand past of intellectual property -- here.
Past Historic 8: Charles Dickens and 'The Poor Man's Tale of a Patent' Past Historic 8: Charles Dickens and 'The Poor Man's Tale of a Patent' Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, December 15, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. Thank you, Jeremy and ESC (which I, too, contributed to in a previous life)! I shall keep this pdf file in the same folder as the Annotated Snark (by Martin Gardner). When I find my copy of "In My Own Write", I may convert that into pdf for ephemerality.

    Kind regards,


  2. I am fortunate enough to have a copy of the first edition of this booklet. It helped put into context the copy of the old Victorian patent, engrossed vellum, great seal and all, that used to hang in our office library. The patent came with the patent boxes that are mentioned (the great seal had its own circular tin-plate box), and a listing, hand written in copperplate script, of the various fees that had been paid to the deputy chaff-wax et al.

  3. How interesting, on several levels. The "voice" in A Poor Man's Tale is very different to most of Dickens' work (including the extracts from Little Dorritt etc in the appendices to Jeremy's paper), but is convincing - compare it to that of the narrator in the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, to which it which it sounds (to me) similar.


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