A delicate business: Wartime airplane designs and their post-war evaluation, 1919-1924

Christine MacLeod*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This paper investigates the difficulty of protecting industrial design within the framework of intellectual property law. By 1914, British law offered protection to patentable inventions, registered designs, copyright and trademarks, and an established procedure for compensating patentees whose inventions (or registered designs) were used by the state. However, the law understood "design" to refer to the decorative arts, not to the design of complex pieces of machinery, such as airplanes, cars or ships, and the rapid development of aeronautical engineering and aircraft production during the First World War would highlight this lacuna. In the early 1920s, following adversarial hearings before the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors, large awards (over 20,000) were made to ten firms in the aviation industry, in compensation for the wartime use of their designs or patents by other government contractors. The paper analyses these cases, to shed light on the problem of identifying "intellectual property" in a complex design, in particular, where a firm developed a series of aircraft that shared major features one with another. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-279
Number of pages11
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • Aeronautics
  • Design Intellectual property
  • Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors
  • Trade secrets
  • World War I


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