The Universal Product Code (U.P.C.)—a small rectangle of black and white bars—adorns virtually every retail item we purchase. Yet twenty-five years ago, the U.P.C. was a mere kernel of an idea shared by a small cadre of manufacturing and chain store executives. Here Stephen Brown, the legal counsel of those pioneering executives, traces its origin and evolution.
The development of the U.P.C. illustrates the process of setting industry standards without government intervention and shows how systems of complementary technologies evolve. The economic consequences of the U.P.C. are investigated in an introduction by Professor John T. Dunlop and Jan Rivkin.