The government would be proud of us (that is the royal us, as in the royal we). We are living up to their marketing of the UK as the high tech centre of the European economy by inventing lots of stuff, or at least trying to.

A hugely impressive 1 in 10 UK resident adults looked into or applied for a patent in the past year, whilst 5% of 11 to 18 year olds did so too. Inventor-in-residence at London’s Science Museum Mark Champkins waxes lyrical on British inventiveness:

“This research shows the recession has sparked a real ‘can do’ attitude amongst ordinary people of all ages who are looking to make some extra cash – and it’s amazing to see that, as a nation, we are turning to science and engineering to make the impossible possible. Breakthroughs using science and technology hold the key to not only transforming individuals’ lives but the state of our country’s future economic growth”.

The research is connected with the Big Bang Young Scientists and Engineers Fair, which is encouraging young inventors and technologists to enter their ideas in the National Science and Engineering Competition, which offers top prizes worth over £50,000.

The government has nailed its colours very firmly to the invention and innovation mast by systematically introducing an extremely generous and flexible system of  enhanced tax relief on research and development expenditure, and even a cash back system on such expenditure for companies not yet paying corporation tax. It will add to this with the advent of the patent box in 2013, which will ultimately allow companies to enjoy a discounted corporation tax of 10% on all their patent-related income.

I was hugely impressed recently by a visit to the Fab Lab in Manchester. Those of us with children of relatively tender years associate Fab Lab with the C-Beebies series featuring a scientist dog and two research assistant pixies (no, I neither smoke or inject those kinds of material). However the Manchester version, pioneered by he Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers budding North West inventors the chance to design, build and test prototypes using state-of-the-art machinery and technology during the week, and at the weekend throws open its doors for free to all comers interested in prototyping, of whatever age.

Given the dramatic surge in invention and innovation, therefore, I would expect Haydn Ilsley and his merry band at the Fab Lab to be extremely busy at the moment, and long may it continue. Who knows, perhaps Napoleon’s ‘nation of shopkeepers’ may be about to become a nation of inventors.

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