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Isis. 2008 Mar;99(1):57-87.

Patenting the bomb: nuclear weapons, intellectual property, and technological control.

Author information

  • Department of History of Science, Harvard University, Science Center 371, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA. wellerst@fas.harvard.edu

Abstract

During the course of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government secretly attempted to acquire a monopoly on the patent rights for inventions used in the production of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. The use of patents as a system of control, while common for more mundane technologies, would seem at first glance to conflict with the regimes of secrecy that have traditionally been associated with nuclear weapons. In explaining the origins and operations of the Manhattan Project patent system, though, this essay argues that the utilization of patents was an ad hoc attempt at legal control of the atomic bomb by Manhattan Project administrators, focused on the monopolistic aspects of the patent system and preexisting patent secrecy legislation. From the present perspective, using patents as a method of control for such weapons seems inadequate, if not unnecessary; but at the time, when the bomb was a new and essentially unregulated technology, patents played an important role in the thinking of project administrators concerned with meaningful postwar control of the bomb.

PMID:
18505023
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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