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enterprise systems in weeding out noncompetitive academic and business pursuits.

In addition to such tangible advantages, US leadership might also be attributed to many favorable public policy priorities: research activities funded by public and private sources that have led to new industries, products, and jobs; an economic climate that encourages investment in technology-based companies; an outward-looking international economic policy; and support for lifelong learning.9

However, things are changing, as noted in Innovate America, a 2004 report from the Council on Competitiveness:10

  • Innovation is diffusing at an ever-increasing rate. It took 55 years for automobile use to spread to a quarter of the US population, 35 years for the telephone, 22 years for the radio, 16 years for the personal computer, 13 years for the cell phone, and just 7 years for the World Wide Web once the Internet had matured (through technology and policy developments) to the point of takeoff.

  • Innovation is increasingly multidisciplinary and technologically complex, arising from the intersection of different fields and spheres of activity.

  • Innovation is collaborative. It requires active cooperation and communication among scientists and engineers and between creators and users.

  • Innovation is creative. Workers and consumers demand ever more new ideas, technologies, and content.

  • Innovation is global. Advances come from centers of excellence around the world and are prompted by the demands of billions of customers.

Central to the strength of US innovation is our tradition of public funding for science and engineering research. Graduate education in the United States is supported mainly by federal grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to faculty researchers, buttressed by a smaller volume of federally funded fellowships. One study reported that 73% of applicants for US patents said that publicly funded research formed part or all of the foundation for their innovations.11 Much of the nation’s research in engineering and the physical sciences is performed in federal laboratories, part of whose mission is to assist the commercialization of new technology.


K. H. Hughes. “Facing the Global Competitiveness Challenge.” Issues in Science and Technology 21(4)(Summer 2005):72-78.


Council on Competitiveness. Innovate America. Washington, DC: Council on Competitiveness, 2004. P. 6.


M. I. Nadiri. Innovations and Technical Spillovers. Working Paper 4423. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1993.

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