Seminar on Intellectual Property, Science, Patenting and Publishing

We hereby cordially invite you to this afternoon’s open seminar at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS), Leiden University.

Time: May 11th, 15-16.30h
Location: CWTS Common room, Willem Einthoven building, 5th floor, Wassenaarseweg 62a, Leiden

“In the Interest of Disinterestedness: the Intellectual Properties of Marie Curie”
Prof. Eva Hemmungs Wirtén (Uppsala University, Sweden)


In 1923, Marie Curie wrote:

“My husband, as well as myself, always refused to draw from our discovery any material profit. We have published, since the beginning, without any reserve, the process that we used to prepare radium. We took out no patent and we did not reserve any advantage in any industrial exploitation. No detail was kept secret, and it is due to the information we gave in our publications that the industry of radium has been rapidly developed. Up to the present time this industry hardly uses any methods except those established by us.”

Five sentences, four actions, one result. This is as close as we get to a last will and testament over the principles, acts, and legacy Marie Curie wanted readers to associate with the Curie name. Brief and clipped in style, she nonetheless managed to use the format to her advantage, using an efficient rhetorical strategy where statements of action immediately follow upon statements of non-action. Yes, material profit was refused but on the other hand publishing took place without reserve. No advantage was reserved in industrial application, but no detail was kept secret and information given freely. Finally, and interestingly enough considering their avowed non-proprietary stance and negation of patenting, the result of their actions is not the opening up of new scientific frontiers, but the blossoming of a radium industry. But as she clearly demarcated what she and her husband did or did not do, she provided more than a snapshot representation of their particular mindset. She indicated the presence of a structural and ongoing tension in science between a gift/market dichotomy, between two distinct systems of credit and reward. This tension is at the heart of my talk, which focuses on the two specific materialities, the two textual expressions that Marie Curie placed on either side of the gift/market precipice: patents and publications. Patents represented an “interested” perspective where you “reserved advantage.” Choosing to “publish without reserve” and keeping “no detail secret,” instead epitomized the values of disinterestedness. In approaching this formative representational dichotomy between patenting and publishing in the making of the Curie persona and myth, my aim is to consider what purposes are served by keeping them on their separate ledges, which, as a consequence, means understanding something of where and how they converge. As I hope to be able to show, the gifting/patenting of radium took place on a decidedly more hybrid territory than Curie’s quote implies.


Eva Hemmungs Wirtén is Professor in Library- and Information Science and Associate Professor [Docent] in Comparative Literature, the Department of ALM, Uppsala University, Sweden. She is the author of two peer-reviewed monographs published by the University of Toronto Press, No Trespassing: Authorship, Intellectual Property Rights, and the Boundaries of Globalization (2004) and Terms of Use: Negotiating the Jungle of the Intellectual Commons (2008). Recent articles include “A Diplomatic Salto Mortale: Translation Trouble in Berne, 1884-1886” for Book History (14) 2011, and “Colonial Copyright, Postcolonial Publics: the Berne Convention and the 1967 Stockholm Diplomatic Conference Revisited” in SCRIPTed, A Journal of Law, Technology & Society, December 2010 (7) 3. Forthcoming in 2012 are two book chapters; “Plants, Pills, and Patents: Circulating Knowledge” in Intellectual Property and Emerging Biotechnologies (Eds. Matthew Rimmer and Alison McLennan) and “Swedish Subtitling Strike Called Off! Fan-to-Fan Piracy, Translation, and the Primacy of Authorization,” in Amateur Media: Social, Cultural and Legal Perspectives (Eds. Dan Hunter, Ramon Lobato, Megan Richardson and Julian Thomas). She is currently funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) writing a book due for completion in the summer of 2013 preliminarily entitled Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property, Science, and the Power of Print.

For more information, please see


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: