Monday, November 22, 2010

Reid Prize to Catherine Fisk for Working Knowledge

At the ASLH meeting in Philadelphia, Catherine Fisk, University of California, Irvine, was awarded the John Phillip Reid Book Award for Working Knowledge: Employee Innovation and the Rise of Corporate Intellectual Property, 1800-1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).  The award is for the best monograph that is not the author’s first book, published in English in any of the fields defined broadly as Anglo-American legal history.  Working Knowledge appeared in the ASLH's book series, Studies in Legal History.

Here's the prize citation:

Catherine Fisk’s Working Knowledge is a book of many different virtues.  It takes on a novel question—when, how, and why did corporations come pervasively to own and control the intellectual property created by their employees?—and it brings to bear prodigious primary research, not just in case law but in corporate archives as well.  By combining these two types of sources, among others, Fisk delivers a compelling story of doctrinal development—especially in the areas of patent, copyright, and trade secrets--but also grounds that story in a textured history of the internal practices and cultures of DuPont, Eastman Kodak, and other companies known for innovation in the early 20th century.  Moreover, Fisk brings together a range of literatures that do not always make contact with each other: the literatures of legal history, of business history, of labor history, and of cultural history, among others.  Adroitly deploying all of this research, she delivers a highly readable narrative that exposes the mutability of historical perspectives on identity and creativity.  She offers us both a big, satisfying narrative arc and a collection of smaller arguments and speculations.  The big story takes us from an early republic in which creativity and intellectual property rights were presumed to lie in the independent man that was idealized by free labor ideology (even when that independent man was an employee for the moment) to a 20th-century America where the ideals of secure corporate employment and consumer satisfaction encouraged identification of employees’ innovations—and thus the copyrights and patents that went with them--with the corporation itself.  Fisk’s many subordinate narratives and arguments enrich the story further, leading the reader finally to lament the absence of Catherine Fisk’s name from the book’s copyright notice, where only that of the publisher appears.

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