1636 The Viennese Waltz – Snippet 35
Yes, there was coal, Ron discovered. But it was as yet mostly not found. The one bit of good news was the Danube. Shipping cost would be much less over a pretty long stretch, because of the Danube. The bad news was the patents that Ferdinand II had been issuing to anyone with the money to purchase one. Patents had been sold on most inventions and industrial processes brought back by the Ring of Fire. At least, on the ones that Austrians had found out about.
The Liechtenstein family owned a bunch of them, and so did lots of other wealthy nobles. Including the Abrabanels. Often enough, it wasn’t even because they wanted them. More a case of the emperor saying, “Yes, I know that I owe you a fortune, but take this patent on helicopters and we’ll call it even.”
It was apparently pretty hard to say no to an emperor.
“It’s almost tempting to buy some of these patents.” Hayley nibbled on one of Frau Mayr’s honey nut rolls. The woman was doing her best to make Hayley fat. “A bunch of people are offering to sell patents at a loss, and no one knows what they are worth.”
“Are they worth anything?” Ron Sanderlin asked.
“Not in Grantville or the USE. But here? Maybe.” Then Hayley shook her head. “No. At some point they are going to have to make peace and regularize the patent laws, and then almost all of these patents are going to be worthless. In the meantime, though, there are a bunch of relatively powerful people trying to get their money back on patents that they were forced to buy. It’s going to make it hard to do much.”
“What concerns me,” Dana Fortney said, “is that any business we start is going to run into one of these patents. I wonder who owns the patent on casein and when we are going to get sued.”
“That’s a good point, Mom,” Hayley said. “I think we need to have a talk with Jack. And maybe a talk with the emperor about his race track. Meanwhile, Mom, can you get an appointment with Moses Abrabanel? I am probably going to have to get some sort of money transfer from Grantville.”
Abrabanel House, outside Vienna
Dana Fortney managed to get an appointment with Moses Abrabanel, but it took a week. She was simply the wife of the second assistant mechanic of the emperor’s car. Sonny was out of town at the moment, working with a team of down-time surveyors to get started on the route for the railroad.
“Have a seat, Frau Fortney. What can I do for you?” Moses was a young man. About thirty, Dana guessed. Down-time thirty, which looked older to up-time eyes. He looked about her age. He wasn’t balding, but his hairline was definitely in retreat. He wasn’t fat, but was developing a bit of a paunch. He was well-dressed and bearded. The dress included the special feature that Jews were required to wear, but was of very good quality. The room was small like most down-time offices but there were file cabinets along one wall. They were wood, probably oak, she thought, and inlayed with a lighter wood, but definitely file cabinets. He also had an up-time style desk and chairs.
“Well, we’re going to have to send home for some money,” Dana said. “I understand that you have contacts with the Grantville national bank.”
“Yes, I do. But I must admit to some surprise,” Moses told her. “I am involved in the court payroll, and as per contract your family has been paid every month, as have the Sanderlins?”
Dana could hear the implied question. Not that it was any of his business. On the other hand, she knew perfectly well that a lot of people in Vienna resented the fact that the Sanderlins and Sonny were getting paid every month. She had learned after they got here that actually being paid by the crown was unusual. Also he might be able to help. “It’s the patents. We have been putting people to work and a few days ago, on the emperor’s instructions, Ron Sanderlin started looking into the possibility of getting concrete to pave the race track. It was then that we learned that the Holy Roman Empire had issued patents on the devices and techniques brought back in the Ring of Fire.” Dana could hear her own resentment and tried to modify her tone. “There are no such restrictions in the USE and we were, until then, unaware of the restrictions here.”
The youngish man winced a little. “It was necessary,” he explained. “The tax base of the empire has been badly stressed by the military reverses we have suffered in the last few years, and yet the demands on the royal purse have only increased.”
“In any case, it is an unexpected expense and we don’t know how much it’s going to cost.”
“Perhaps I can help with that. I know a clerk in the office of patents who can probably tell who, if anyone, holds the patent on a specific product or process. And then I should be able to point you in the direction of the patent holder.”
They talked some more and Moses agreed to make the necessary inquiries to establish a credit line from Grantville. A few days later, Dana sent him a list of products and processes that they were interested in. It turned out that no one owned the process of making casein. Someone did own the patent on sewing machines, but it was on making them, not using them.
They managed to buy the patent on the manufacture of plastic for the area around Vienna. The assumption had been that plastic was beyond the present ability of the up-timers, and the realization that casein was plastic hadn’t penetrated the court. So the patent on plastic was not considered of any great value, at least not yet.
Sanderlin House, Race Track City
“This includes a lot of guesswork,” Dana Fortney told Gayleen and Hayley. Then she took a sip of coffee and didn’t grimace. She liked sugar in her coffee, but sugar was much more expensive than coffee here in Vienna. “What seems to have happened is some of the old emperor’s agents sent back long lists of products and processes. Some of them very general, like plastics, and some very specific, like injection molding of toy soldiers. What they didn’t send was much information about how any of it worked. That was left up to the people who bought the patents.”
“They must have sold them to the very rich,” Gayleen said. “Most people can’t afford to send an agent to Grantville to figure out how to make . . .”
Dana was shaking her head. “You’re right about most of the people not being able to send agents to Grantville. But that’s not how they did it. Instead, people were encouraged to attend auctions and bid on something. The old emperor apparently didn’t care much what they bid on or how many patents they got as long as they spent enough money in total to fit their status at court. Some people bid the required amount on whatever came up and wasn’t being bid up by other people.”