Female Patent Activity and Market Development in Rio de Janeiro at the End of the 19th Century

Friday, January 6, 2017: 11:30 AM
Room 203 (Colorado Convention Center)
Kari Zimmerman, University of St. Thomas
Analyzing patent applications filed with the Brazilian government, this paper examines the role of female entrepreneurs in market development in Rio de Janeiro at the end of the nineteenth century. Approximately 850 female entrepreneurs owned and operated private businesses in the Brazilian capital between 1880 & 1906 and many of these same women requested patents to protect their inventions that were key to their commercial success. Both the Imperial and Republican governments encouraged private capital and technological advance to strengthen the growing economy. In addition to a series of revisions to patent law throughout the 1880s, the nation’s commercial and civil laws included incentives for many women to engage in the market by protecting their business and property rights. Yet these formal institutions often contradicted the common social expectations for women to privilege domestic responsibilities over any commercial obligation or interest. Comparing legal and social prescription with actual business practice illustrates how female entrepreneurs leveraged formal structures to preserve their role in commerce and innovation.

 A systematic analysis of the business and technological activity of both women and men in the Rio de Janeiro market suggests that female entrepreneurs frequently relied upon legal rights to challenge social norms. Women and men invested similar amounts of time, money, and expertise into their businesses and inventions. These largely gender neutral commercial endeavors challenge traditional understandings that female innovation and entrepreneurship in the Americas was relegated to domestic industries. Business and patent activity highlights how women balanced competing gender and legal traditions to become integral architects of economic and technological development in Brazil.

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