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WorldEscrow Newsletter April 2013

Escrow and Watt: the missing bolt

And so, WorldEscrow sends the fourth of its famous newsletters this year. We have covered a lot of subjects already, but all of them were focusing on Software Escrow. Obviously, WorldEscrow’s core business is Software Escrow, but it certainly isn’t the only service we can provide.

Everybody, and especially engineers among you, knows James Watt these days. Commonly known as the inventor of the steam engine, inventor of horsepower and one of the pioneers of the industrial revolution. More specifically known as the man who upgraded the Newcomen steam pump to be almost five times more cost-effective (which is expressed in modern fuel consumption about the difference between driving a city car or a super truck, to give you an idea) and a lot more multifunctional. But what if he hadn’t secured and shared his knowledge?

That question may seem incredibly odd, but it isn’t even that weird a question, as Watt had a notorious fear for others taking credit for his work. As such, he avoided publishing it whenever he could, he never communicated it except through patents and he was generally closed when it came to his actual inventions. Well, no problem, you think right now, he had technical patents, his company knew what he had to do, etc. But nothing is less true. The technical patents were – at that time – etchings and a rough description. Based on the drawings and information provided by these patents, you could have built a Watt engine, but definitely not a very efficient one. Second problem: Watt and Boulton, Watt’s successful enterprise he founded in 1755 with Matthew Boulton, knew how to make the parts of the Watt engine (and were in fact the only ironcasters factory precise enough to do it) but no one was qualified to actually assemble it. On top of that, the Watt engine was anything but small. You had to design and build separate building(s) to house them and then hook them up to the machinery. One of the smallest examples of a Watt engine still stands at Loughborough university, but it still is the size of a middle sized suburban city house! All the practical knowledge about installing the engine was only kept by Watt himself at the very beginning. So, should Watt have died in that stage of his development, the Watt engine would have been suspended for at least several years. Someone would have figured out the fine elements of the machine sooner or later, but it would have taken time. Maybe even that long that we would still have to pass the first industrial revolution.

In this case though, we were lucky. Watt and Boulton were that successful that Watt couldn’t do it on his own anymore, and thus he trained two of his closest friends (Murdoch, Engineer in Watt’s Soho workshop since 1777, but by the end of that decade chief engineer and captain of the technical department in all projects of Boulton & Watt, and Boulton, his business partner) to configurate and assemble the Watt Engines.

Watt could have done it a bit simpler though. If Watt had had a trusted third party, he wouldn’t have had to be so roundabout about his brainchild. He could have drawn a very detailed schedule, and written a very detailed manual, and deposit it, so at least the people using Watt engines wouldn’t have been in the dark when he died, but everybody would still have honored him as the the brain behind it all. Fortunately for them, Watt lived a long life. It was a black Wednesday, the 25th of august in 1819 that Watt died of old age at 83 years. By then, the sons of Watt and Boulton, together with Murdoch, ran the company together and kept a steep growing pace. By 1850, there wasn’t a self-respecting factory left that didn’t own a Boulton & Watt steam engine to amp-up production. Only when High Pressured steam became the norm, Boulton & Watt engines started to become obsolete, which was by the end of 1860’s. By then however, the first experiments with combustion engines had been performed and we were already on the doorstep of the twentieth century.

For this type of situation, WorldEscrow developed an Industrial Escrow service. You plain and simple deposit all technical documents with us, and should you fail, we’ll transfer the deposit to your clients, in the understanding that the idea and intellectual property is, and will always be, yours.

Imagine you could be absolutely certain your inventions or the machines you use are indefenitely secure and maintainable. Or stop imagining and Contact us