A recent article, written by Jeffrey Kluger, and published in TIME Magazine titled, The Spark of Invention, describes the results of a TIME/Qualcomm poll on the world’s opinion of who inventors are, how they do their work, and what countries they come from
[i]. Over 10,000 people were polled, coming from over 17 countries. Of those 17 countries, 7 were mature markets, such as the United States or Germany, and the other 10 were emerging markets, such as Russia, India and Mexico. The 10,197 sample size was also divided into two categories. 6,133 were middle-income adults, 2,691 were well-educated and high-income adults, and the remaining 1,373 were “business decision makers,” those who run a department in a large company with over $10 million in global sales. Every person was asked the same open-ended questions. Questions that included: What is an inventor? Are inventors born or made? What is the most important invention of all time? While Thomas Edison said, “To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk”, TIME’s poll shows you may need a little more.
Thoughts and ideas are often drawn from observation of clues that are obvious and out in the open. What is different however is making connections from subtle clues that are often over looked. The TIME poll found that people did not think everyone is cut out to make ingenious connections. 65% of respondents thought inventors were special people, while only 35% thought anyone could be one. When looking at the results country by country, the numbers were drastically different. While the United States was close to the average, at 62% of people saying inventors were special people, 90% of Russians thought they were special. This is interesting considering Russia has lived as a classless society for the past 70 years. South Koreans thought just the opposite as Russia, with only 32% thinking inventors had special qualities. When people were asked if they thought themselves could be inventors the results were almost the opposite. 94% of South Koreans believed they could be inventors, while only 26% of Americans and 33% of Russians answered yes.
For the past century, the United States has been overwhelmingly the most “inventive” country. This is not only based on the number of inventions that have come from US labs, items that include the airplane, zipper, or telephone, but public opinion supports this claim as well. 36% named America the most inventive country. Second place was Japan with 19%. While many would assume that a wonderful education would be a requirement for an inventive culture, the public disagrees. Only 32% of participants from emerging nations and 23% in developed nations believed education was a requirement for inventiveness.
Patents are another way of measuring a country’s inventiveness. Areas with more cities, versa rural areas, tend to produce more patents. It was a gross majority, 90% overall, that believed a patent system was important for fostering creativity. While the US was granted the most patents last year, 40% of respondents believe that the US is also doing the best job protecting intellectual rights[ii]. However, none of the countries surveyed, even the United States was satisfied with their government’s patent system. 76% of respondents wanted tighter protections. Patent infringement cases are one of the main ways a country protects its intellectual property. During patent litigation, engineers, inventors themselves, are often utilized as expert witnesses to defend claims in a patent.
Engineers are our eras “inventors”. Whether they are a mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, or materials engineer, engineers are creating and inventing on a daily basis, improving our lives with technology advancements.