Fact or myth? Now we know, it's a myth

In "British Inventiveness -- Fact or Myth?", posted on Monday 27 September, the IPKat reported the content of a Chartered Institute of Patent Attorney press release which referred to a study by the Japanese Trade & Industry Ministry in the 1980s which apparently concluded that 54 per cent of the world's most important inventions were British. Said this weblog:
"The IPKat has never seen the MITI report and wonders whether an English version of it exists. He has however heard this figure, sometimes inflated to anything up to 75%, cited as evidence that the Japanese have simply stolen and successfully commercialised vast swathes of British innovation -- a proposition which the Kat feels cannot be supported by evidence".
The Kat has now just received an email from the admirable Peter Prowse, who handles the CIPA press releases. Writes Peter:
"I read your piece commenting on CIPA's press release quoting the 'MITI report'. I first saw this claim reported in several normally reputable publications (eg 'The Engineer') way back in the early 1990s. I've been referring to it - off and on - ever since.

Your comments - and a request from Lawrence Smith-Higgins at the IPO to direct him towards the original report - led me to do some digging.  I have now unearthed an article by David Budworth, published in the New Scientist on 10 April 1986, in which he traces how the myth arose.

According to Budworth, there was a report from the Science and Technology Agency of Japan, a summary of which was published (in English) in 1981 by Japan's Foreign Press Centre. The Japanese report was itself based on a survey conducted for the National Science Foundation in the USA. The erroneous references to a 'MITI' report appear to have been introduced by the Sunday Times in 1985, reporting on a Bow Group Memorandum that drew on the 1981 Japan Foreign Press Centre story.

So there we have it. There was a survey. It showed that Britain was quite good at 'radical innovations'; the survey was reported by the Japanese Science and Technology Agency, picked up by the Bow Group and then misreported in the Sunday Times."
The IPKat congratulates Peter on his detective work, and for his determination to establish the truth.

More British myths here and here
Fact or myth? Now we know, it's a myth Fact or myth? Now we know, it's a myth Reviewed by Jeremy on Wednesday, October 06, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. I am a most grateful US CEO and would wish to say that this is not a myth. Why you silly old pussy cat you. You just have to look at the little old Nobel Prize league results to see that! I’m a Texan and I worked that one out!

    We in the US, and of course others in Japan and elsewhere, have been extremely grateful for British Inventiveness and the British way. The world has benefited enormously from the UK lead in inventiveness.

    Only this week our favourite ally won a whole clutch of these Nobel Prizes. Look at the prize for Physics. That ground breaking work has been recognized by that Swedish fella Nobel and all the rest of us overseas folks, you Brits are just too dumb to see it! Don’t believe me? Well I just did a little “quick and dirty”, as we like to call, it on espacenet. I used the keyword graphene for the abstract and selected by priority country to get the following results:

    Total hits with graphene in abstract is 632 patents! Wow a lot of interest. This breaks down as follows:

    US priority is 259
    Japanese priority is 156
    Korean priority is 77
    Chinese priority is 72
    German priority is 9
    UK priority is 4 (plus a Nobel Prize).

    I’ll admit that the UK figure is a bit of a fudge as only one of the applicants is actually British and ironically it’s not Manchester University....it’s ISIS! But hey! Whoop! Whoop! You got THE PRIZE man!

    This is just one example of your countries great benevolence. You can do the same trick with just about every UK Nobel Prize in science and get pretty much the same result. Dammit! You guys are so annoyingly consistent.

    So you see we do appreciate all your had work and world lead in inventiveness. We have built our economies on it and look forward to doing so for many more years to come. So don't be so British. Don't do yourselves down and take credit where it is deservedly due.

  2. Goodness, it's not often someone in Texas points out that something is bigger or better outside the Lone Star State - so thank you, Anonymous, for your words of praise about British inventiveness. I agree that there is nothing mythical about scientific and technical achievement in the UK; the 'myth' in question is the (non-existent) Japanese MITI report, an urban legend that has been repeated so many times that it has become a 'well-known fact'.

  3. Well that's globalization for you! As we say in Texas.Deal with it. We are bigger and better outside of the Lone Star State.

    What! That's not a myth it's a conspiracy. We know a lot about those in the US. What you need to do is work out who had a vested interest in getting you UK folks chasing your tails on this one.

  4. I know I'm reviving an 8 year old thread, but I have to know what Anonymous is trying to say? that most UK Nobel prizes in sciences are to people that are not actually British? because from what I read on the Nobel prize site 22 of the 24 UK Nobel prizes in physics were awarded to British born scientists.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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