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Which country has produced the most inventions?

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July 28, 2010 6:22PM

A study by MITI - Japan's equivalent of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) - concluded that 54% of the world's most important inventions were British. Of the rest, 25% were American and 5% Japanese.

The figures offered by MITI are generally agreed throughout the scientific and engineering community. However, it is important to note that "invention" does not immediately translate into "new product". There is a huge journey to move from an invention to reaching the market place with a product, one that demands engineering and development skills as well as significant amounts of money.

Britain is credited with numerous inventions. One great example is the digital audio player. The first operating player was British. One would have to search long and hard to find a British MP3 player on the market today. It took Apple, an American corporation to fund the development work and deliver the Ipod to market.

Television is another example: The first operating television system was made, demonstrated and put into service in the UK by John Logie Baird and the BBC in the 1920s. Philo Farnsworth and RCA in the US made some significant developments and introduced commercial broadcasting in the 1930s. The US was the first to introduce color television, free market broadcasting and cable services to support multiple television channels. Most broadcast equipment is now made by US companies with Britain and the Far East behind the US in terms of output. Before moving on from television, it is worth noting that Baird used ideas developed by a German (with Russian heritage) some 20 or 30 years before. Farnsworth and Baird also worked together in the early thirties and they both had the benefit of research carried out by developers in many countries. To say that television is the invention of a single country is perhaps too simplistic.

There are many other examples that can be quoted. Undoubtedly Britain remains one of the leaders in science and innovation and America remains one of the great countries for bringing ideas to market. The culture of British universities encourages great minds to keep researching and inventing. The culture of American investment and business encourages entrepreneurs to take an idea and develop viable products.

There is often debate about the source of new ideas and inventions. Today's global environment allows ideas to be shared throughout the world. Inventions will be increasingly difficult to assign to a single country. It is perhaps more important that we celebrate and honor the great minds of all nationalities that have studied the world and developed technology to bring us to the point we are today