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Abstract This article analyses the spread of innovation in mid-nineteenth-century Germany using foreign patents as an indicator for technology transfer. It introduces a new dataset of over 1,400 patents granted in the Grand Duchy of Baden between 1843 and 1877. The data show that Baden’s technology import via foreign patents from German and non-German inventors was important. This technology transfer was broadly based, although technologies related to the textile and machine-building industries are prominent in the data. The decision to file a patent in Baden was driven by competition and the risk of imitation. Using a gravity model with city-level data, we find evidence that technology transfer through patents reflected existing trade links. The strong correlation between technologies filed by foreigners and domestic inventors provides further evidence that the risk of imitation fostered patent-based technology transfer during the mid-nineteenth century. Furthermore, we show that foreigners filed patents predominantly in industries that accounted for a high share of the workforce in Baden.