Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Siegel on the Great Longitude Controversy and Administrative Law

The Institute for Constitutional Studies at the George Washington University Law School announces the presentation of a work in progress, "The Great Longitude Controversy: Administrative Law and Intellectual Property in the Eighteenth Century," by Jonathan Siegel, George Washington University Law School, on Friday, November 21. Lunch will be served at 11:45 and the lecture will begin at 12:15. The event will take place in the Faculty Conference Center at the GWU Law School.

To attend, RSVP by Wednesday, November 19th at icsgw@law.gwu.edu. Here is the abstract:
The eighteenth-century quest to “find the longitude” is an epic tale that blends science with law. The problem of determining longitude while at sea was so important that the British Parliament offered a large cash prize for a solution and created an administrative agency, the Board of Longitude, to determine the winner. The generally popular view is that the Board of Longitude cheated John Harrison [pictured at left], an inventor, out of the great longitude prize.

This article examines the longitude story as a matter of administrative law and intellectual property. The article imagines the dispute between Harrison and the Board of Longitude translated into a modern setting and asks what would happen if Harrison sought judicial review of the Board’s refusal to award him the longitude prize. The article suggests that the popular account of the dispute is unfair to the Board. The Board gave a reasonable interpretation to the statute creating the longitude prize and was not improperly biased against Harrison’s method of solving the longitude problem. The article concludes with some lessons the longitude story offers for modern intellectual property and administrative law.
Image credit.