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  ICBTT2004 Technology & Society Division, JSME

The management of intellectual capital in transnational engineering:
a study of Babcock & Wilcox 1860-1920

Kristine Bruland

University of Oslo

An introduction to:
The international diffusion of steam technology and the management of intellectual capital: a study of Babcock & Wilcox 1860-1920

This paper provides a background and an introduction to the paper which will be presented at the conference: Business and Technology Transfer in the Modern Industrial World to be held in Kyoto, 12-13 October 2002, entitled "The international diffusion of steam technology and the management of intellectual capital: a study of Babcock & Wilcox 1860-1920."

Babcock & Wilcox (which operated extensively in Britain, France and Germany) was one of the most innovative and important engineering firms in the late 19th century. The overall aims of the investigation of this firm are to explore how processes of innovation and diffusion took place; to relate these processes to the large-scale technological changes in the late nineteenth century, and to see what light the case of Babcock & Wilcox throws on some major debates in economic and business history. The history of the firm is of much historical interest and throws light on current preoccupations in economics, innovation studies, and economic and business history. It is of interest and current relevance for the following reasons:

  • The firm was the main developer of one of the core technologies of the 'second industrial revolution' related to power generation and large-scale power plants.
  • Its history raises questions about the nature of globalization in the late 19th century, since the firm had a global strategy for production and distribution
  • It involves the issue of strategic alliances among firms. The firm had a long-standing production agreement with the Singer Company, based on close technological collaboration.
  • It is closely relevant to the issue of British relative economic decline and entrepreneurial failure in the late nineteenth century. The British branch of Babcock & Wilcox (which became separated off as an independent firm) in fact performed better than the American company
  • It illuminates themes such as corporate governance, problems flowing from the separation of ownership and control, principal-agent relations and conflicts of interest and responsibilities within the managerial hierarchies of firms.
  • It raises issues relating to the management of intellectual property within and outside firms. The firm's success was based on a patented safety steam boiler, and continuous patenting is a prominent feature of the history of the firm.

The paper explores two of these aspects in particular, namely the global production and distribution of the firm's core product, and the firm's management of intellectual property in an international context.

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