When we think of some of the great inventions of the past 100 years, we think of breakthroughs in computer science, energy, and health care. And one would figure many of the inventions took place in California's Silicon Valley and Stamford, or among the scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT and possibly even around such futuristic companies as GE which is headquartered in Connecticut.
You probably wouldn't consider such states as Utah or Oregon to be boiling pots of invention, but they are. In fact, according to the Kauffman Foundation, which claims to be the world's largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship, these two states generate the most independent inventor patents per capita than any others.
In fact, Utah produces 22.1 patents per million people which is nearly one-and-a-half times more than number two state Oregon, which had 14.4 patents per million.
Michael O'Malley, communications director of Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) Initiative, an economic development group, says it's due to Utah's taxes and light regulation, which make it "business-friendly" and the kind of state that encourages innovation.
He says it USTAR Technology Commercialization Grant program promotes cooperation between entrepreneurs and faculty at research universities in the state. USTAR has provided grants to 76 projects, which have helped spark 27 new patents and applications.
Inventors in Utah are active in the biomedical, information technology, energy (conventional and alternative), and homeland security industries.
As for what makes Oregon so inventive, it has a reputation for being a cool place for the young, hip and smart people to live. David Chen, chairman of the Oregon Innovation Council, a state business development group, says highly educated young people are attracted by what they perceive to be the lifestyle and culture of the community. He adds that they in turn contribute to a creative and innovation-based economy.
Of course, the state's natural resources and strong high-tech sector also play a role. The offices of giants like Intel and Hewlett-Packard bring thousands of tech-minded folks to the state. So it shouldn't be a surprise that Oregon generates so many patents in areas like nanotechnology, material sciences, sustainable and natural products, medicine, biology, and advanced adhesives.
In the early part of the decade, Oregon started encouraging its companies and universities to work together more closely, sharing equipment and cooperating to develop intellectual property.
Chen says the move "really paid off" said Chen, allowing the state to gain critical mass as an innovator beyond its size.
After Utah and Oregon come California, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Number three, California, which has 11.3 patents per million people. After all, it is the home to Silicon Valley and tech leaders like Apple and Google, along with renowned research universities like Stanford.
With its relaxed lifestyle and beautiful weather, California is simply an attractive state to anyone including inventors. Many patents are coming out of the IT and social media fields, but medical devices, biotech, and wireless communication also generate a lot of innovation.
Tim Gerrity, director of the Alliance for the Commercialization of Technology, a business development nonprofit, says one of his clients developed patented technology aimed at medical and military users that translates language in real time. You can speak English, for example, and the system, created by a company called Fluential, lets your words come out in Spanish on a user's headset.
Number four, Massachusetts, produces 9.8 million patents per million people. But when you consider this is home for Harvard, MIT, Tufts, and UMass, you would wonder why it wasn't even higher. The highly-educated population attracts a lot of investment money. Massachusetts leads the nation in venture capital per capita, according to a study from the John Adams Innovation Institute, a state economic development organization.
And coming in at number 5, is Connecticut, with 9.4 patents per million people. Connecticut's corporations and universities attract smart, educated workers. General Electric, Xerox, United Technologies and Pitney Bowes are just a few of the name-brand companies with offices in the state. And of course, Connecticut is also home to Yale, Connecticut College and Wesleyan. Connecticut also gets spillover talent because of its proximity to New York and Boston. Biotech and medical devices are key areas for innovation in the state.
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