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Green Innovation from the Global South: Renewable Energy Patents in Chile, 1877–1910

  • Bernardita Escobar Andrae and Nelson Arellano Escudero


This research note uses the case of nineteenth-century Chile to argue that the phenomenon of early green entrepreneurship was not confined to the United States and Europe. It focuses on Chile-based inventors who pursued intellectual-property protection in solar, tidal, wave motion, water flow, and wind power. The backgrounds and careers of these inventors are examined. The case contests the popular assumption that knowledge always originated in the developed North and flowed southward. Instead, at least in the case of renewable energy, knowledge emerged endogenously in Chile and sometimes even flowed northward. This research note argues that the circulation of knowledge was strongly linked to the mobility of individuals rather than to the mobility of patents between North and South.



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1 Smil, Vaclav, Energy and Civilization: A History (Cambridge, MA, 2017).

2 Jones, Christopher F., Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America (Cambridge, MA, 2014); Kander, Astrid, Malanima, Paolo, and Warde, Paul, Power to the People: Energy in Europe over the Last Five Centuries (Princeton, 2013); Hughes, Thomas P., Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880–1930 (Baltimore, 1993).

3 Thomas, Julia Adeney, “Historia económica en el Antropoceno: Cuatro modelos,” Desacatos 54 (May–Aug. 2017): 2839; Söderholm, Kristina, “Environmental Awakening in the Swedish Pulp and Paper Industry: Pollution Resistance and Firm Responses in the Early 20th Century,” Business Strategy and the Environment 18, no. 1 (2009): 3242; Jones, Geoffrey, Profits and Sustainability: A History of Green Entrepreneurship (Oxford, 2017); Jones, Geoffrey, Varieties of Green Business: Industries, Nations and Time (Northampton, MA, 2018).

4 Martin Jänicke argues that only a handful of countries are pioneering environmental policy leaders (Sweden, the United States, Japan, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Jänicke, , “Trend-Setters in Environmental Policy: The Character and Role of Pioneer Countries,” European Environment 15, no. 2 (2005): table 1. In the European context, Reinhard Haasa, Christian Panzera, Gustav Rescha, Mario Ragwitzb, Gemma Reecec, and Anne Held report that Austria is the leading EU country in terms of consumption of energy generated by renewable sources (over 60 percent). Haasa, et al. , “A Historical Review of Promotion Strategies for Electricity from Renewable Energy Sources in EU Countries,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15, no. 2 (2011): 1007, fig. N. 6.

5 Jones, Profits and Sustainability.

6 “Sustainable entrepreneurs” refers to businesspeople who combine economic, social, and environmental value creation with an overall concern for the well-being of future generations; see Muñoz, Pablo and Cohen, Boyd, “Sustainable Entrepreneurship Research: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead,” Business Strategy and the Environment 27, no. 3 (2018): 300–22.

7 Although most of the contemporary case studies concerning sustainable entrepreneurship focus on developed countries, a few case studies have analyzed experiences in developing countries. Wheeler, David, McKague, Kevin, Thomson, Jane, Davies, Rachel, Medalye, Jacqueline, and Prada, Marina, “Creating Sustainable Local Enterprise Networks,” MIT Sloan Management Review 47, no. 1 (2005): 3340.

8 Jones, Profits and Sustainability.

9 Ross, David, Opportunities and Uses of the Ocean (New York, 1978); Ross, David, Energy from the Waves (Oxford, 1981).

10 Harding, Josiah, “Apparatus for Solar Distillation of Fresh Water from Salt Water,” Scientific American Supplement 405 (Oct. 1883): 6461–62; Apparatus for Solar Distillation,” Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers 73 (June 1883): 284–88.

11 W. Bollaert was perhaps the first to report the use of distilled water in Iquique: “On leaving the port of Iquique, (at which place there is no water, excepting that distilled from the ocean) … The scene is one of absolute sterility.” Bollaert, , “On Common Salt: The Sources from Whence Obtained, and the Processes Involved in Its Manufacture – With Observations on the Origin of Salt and Other Saline Bodies,” Journal of the Society of Arts 1, no. 39 (1853): 478. Josiah Harding, in “The Desert of Atacama (Bolivia)” (Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 47 [1877]: 250–53), noted that all water that was needed was distilled from wells, but later described the plant. Nelson Arellano-Escudero, “La ingeniería y el descarte artefactual de la desalación solar de agua: Las industrias de Las Salinas, Sierra Gorda y Oficina Domeyko (1872–1907)” (PhD diss., Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, 2015).

12 Wilson's invention of solar distillation technology was reported by Telkes, Maria, “Fresh Water from Sea Water by Solar Distillation,” Industrial & Engineering Chemistry 45, no. 5 (1953) pp. 1109.; Ackermann, A. S. E., “The Utilisation of Solar Energy,” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 63, no. 3258 (1915): 538–65; and Hirschmann, Julio G., “A Solar Energy Pilot Plant for Northern Chile,” Solar Energy 5, no. 2 (1961): 3743. See also, more recently, Kalogirou, Soteris A., “Seawater Desalination Using Renewable Energy Sources,” Progress in Energy and Combustion Science 31, no. 3 (2005): 242–81; Arellano-Escudero, “La ingeniería.”

13 Nitrate soda was the chief commodity export in the late nineteenth century. Clow, Frederick R., “South American Trade,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 7, no. 2 (1893): 193204; Carmen Cariola Sutter and Osvaldo Sunkel, La historia economica de Chile: 1830 y 1930. Dos ensayos y una bibliografia (Madrid, 1982); Marc Badia-Miró and José Díaz-Bahamonde, “The Impact of Nitrates on the Chilean Economy, 1880–1930,” in The First Export Era Revisited: Reassessing Its Contribution to Latin American Economies, ed. Sandra Kuntz-Ficker (London, 2017), 151–88. In the twentieth century, and to date, it was copper. Butler, B. S., “Copper,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 89 (May 1920): 103110; Ocampo, José Antonio, “Commodity-Led Development in Latin America,” in Alternative Pathways to Sustainable Development: Lessons from Latin America, ed. Carbonnier, Gilles, Campodónico, Humberto, and Vázquez, Sergio Tezanos (Leiden, 2017), 5176.

14 Bernardita Escobar Andrae, “An Early Patent System in the Developing World: The Chilean Case, 1840s–1900s,” in Fashioning Global Patent Cultures: Diversity and Harmonization in Historical Perspective, ed. Graeme Gooday and Steven Wilf (Cambridge, UK, forthcoming); Bernardita Escobar Andrae, “The Doctrines and the Making of an Early Patent System in the Developing World: The Chilean Case, 1840s–1910s” (FEE Diego Portales University Working Paper 58, Santiago, 2014); Padro Alvarez Caselli, “Inventar en el fin del mundo: Orígenes de la propiedad industrial y el sistema de patentes de invención en Chile, 1840–1880” (PhD diss., Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2017).

15 Josh Lerner, “150 Years of Patent Protection” (NBER Working Paper 7478, Cambridge, MA, 2000). Table 3 highlights that patent fees were relatively cheap, and table 1 shows that patents for chemicals, food and medicines were allowed.

16 Inkster, Ian, “Patents as Indicators of Technological Change and Innovation — An Historical Analysis of the Patent Data, 1830–1914,” Transaction of the Newcomen Society 73 (2003): 179208. Chile was one of the first countries to establish patent protection in Latin America. Over two thousand patents were granted between 1840 and 1910. Arturo Montero, Rejistro Jeneral de Patentes de Invención: Que comprende todos los privilejios, ya sean de invención o de introducción concedidos por el gobierno de Chile hasta 1912 (Santiago, 1913).

17 Andrae, Bernardita Escobar, “Mujeres inventoras en Chile hasta el centenario: ¿Particularidad o emprendimiento?,” in Empresas y empresarios en la historia de Chile: 1810–1930, ed. Llorca-Jaña, Manuel and Traverso, Diego Barría (Santiago, 2017), 293311; Rojas, Carlos Donoso, “De la compañia chilena de telefonos de edison a la Compañia de Telefonos de Chile: Los primeros 50 años de la telefonia nacional, 1880–1930,” Historia 33 (2000): 101–39. Collanges de Solminihac's patent had expired by the turn of the twentieth century, because of lack of use, whereas Edison's was used extensively after it was granted.

18 Machlup, Fritz and Penrose, Edith T., “The Patent Controversy in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Economic History 10, no. 1 (1950): 129.

19 Notably, Boldrin, Michele and Levine, David K., “2003 Lawrance R. Klein Lecture: The Case against Intellectual Monopoly,” International Economic Review 45, no. 2 (2004): 327–50; The Economics of Ideas and Intellectual Property,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America 102, no. 4 (2005): 1252–56; Against Intellectual Monopoly (Cambridge, UK, 2008). Different arguments against patents are laid out in Bessen, James and Meurer, Michael, Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats, and Lawyers Put Innovators At Risk (Princeton, 2008).

20 Moser, Petra, “Patents and Innovation in Economic History,” Annual Review of Economics 8 (2016): 241–58. She argues that technology fairs displayed innovations that better mirrored innovation dynamics of countries because they attracted innovations that would otherwise avoid using patent systems. Among the reasons for not using patent systems are the high fees, the need to disclose technology through publication requirements, and the presence of discriminatory fees charged on the basis of the applicant's country of origin.

21 Sanhueza, Carlos, La movilidad del conocimiento científico en América Latina: Objetos, prácticas, instituciones, siglos XVIII–XX (Santiago, 2018); Medina, Eden, Marques, Ivan Da Costa, and Holmes, Cristina, eds., Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America (Cambridge, MA, 2014); Mine Kleiche Dray, Les ancrages nationaux de la science mondiale, XVIIIe–XXIe siècles (Paris, 2018).

22 Arnold, D., “Europe, Technology, and Colonialism in the 20th Century,” History and Technology 21, no. 1 (2005): 85106.

23 Some examples are the reports by eighteenth-century physicians such as Louis Feuillee and Amadeo Francis Frezier and those by Darwin and others in the nineteenth century, Ricardo Cruz-Coke Madrid, Historia de la Medicina Chilena (Santiago, 1995). In spite of the country's socioeconomic inequality and backwardness, several traditional indigenous techniques used in South America, and in Chile in particular, were worthy of mention in scientific journals. For example, William Bridges Adams stated, “I have seen Patagonian women, with a loom formed of pegs stuck in the bare earth open to the sky, on their knees plying the shuttle to form a poncho of the brightest of wool, dyed and spun by themselves, and capable of turning any amount of rain water better than the best wool of Leeds or Manchester; and I have seen the Chilé gold crushing mills at work, made of native wood and native granite, with not five pounds weight of iron in their whole composition, extracting gold more effectually than by all the powers hitherto used by more civilised people.” Adams, “On the Culture of Food,” Journal of the Society of Arts 7, no. 321 (1859): 119.

24 Adams, William Bridges, “Proceedings: The Food Committee,” Journal of the Society of Arts 17, no. 839 (1868): 118–23; Abbot, C. G., “The Smithsonian ‘Solar Constant’ Expedition to Calama, Chile,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 4, no. 10 (1918): 313–16; Abbot, C. G., Knoche, Walter, Moore, Alfred F., and Abbot, Leonard H., “The Smithsonian ‘Solar Constant’ Expedition to Calama, Chile,” Science, n.s., 48, no. 1252 (1918): 635–36.

25 Montero, Rejistro Jeneral.

26 The Official Gazette is the paper that communicates content of a legal nature to the public and by doing so fulfills the publicity requirements that govern the action of the public administration. It normally contains new legislation and petitions of private parties made to the government that may affect third parties’ interests, such as trademark and patent applications. At the time, it also contained third-party oppositions to the latter applications. During the period of study, the gazette published various decisions made by the government regarding these types of procedures. Nonetheless, the plans and designs regarding the subject matter were not published in the gazette.

27 The database singles out patent applications, some decisions made by the government regarding each of them, and any opposition by third parties to applications. However, the gazette does not normally contain information regarding the appointment of patent examiners.

28 We did not include force of gravity, because it was deemed too difficult to separate the cases we were seeking from those that used the term “gravity” in a different manner or with a different meaning.

29 For example, technologies related to underwater devices were common in the period, but they are of no interest for this study. To exclude these cases from the applications that we sought to select, we explicitly excluded applications using nouns related to means of transportation, such as ships, vessels, and boats.

30 Montero, Rejistro Jeneral. An analysis of such data reveals that 1,826 patents were granted between 1873 and 1908. Escobar Andrae, An Early Patent System.

31 Gamallo, Victor Vargas, La Apicultura nacional (Santiago, 1900); Nuevo sistema de colmenas de barras movibles (Havana, 1914).

32 de Benito, Pablo, “Memoria sobre la situación económica de la República de Guatemala en el año de 1911Memorias diplomáticas y consulares e informaciones 387 (1913):1-59.

33 Harding, “Apparatus for Solar Distillation” (Oct. 1883); “Apparatus for Solar Distillation” (June 1883).

34 Jones, Profits and Sustainability.


Green Innovation from the Global South: Renewable Energy Patents in Chile, 1877–1910

  • Bernardita Escobar Andrae and Nelson Arellano Escudero


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