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The Point Of Inventions Is To Be Able To Use Them, Not Sell Them

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This is a common complaint about the British economy, that we can invent things but don;t then go on to make fortunes out of them. The problem here is that the base idea is wrong. What makes us rich is being able to use inventions, not the creation of them:

It’s a familiar story, so much so that it has become something of a cliché; Britain is very good at discovering and inventing stuff, but when it comes to commercial exploitation it’s been an abject failure. Magnetic resonance imaging scanners and the world wide web included, Britain’s post-war history is littered with groundbreaking inventions that for one reason or another the nation has been unable to turn into sustainable sales and profit. Those benefits have instead tended to go to others.

The problem with MRI should be put at the feet of the NHS. A Stalinist bureaucracy is not going to be at the leading edge of actually using a new technology. This, in turn, means that domestic manufacturers are not going to have that reliable base upon which to build scale.

It is still true today that the NHS uses MRI less than other places. One recent research paper from the NHS said that “using MRI to do this” seems sensible. Proper cutting edge research – except for the fact that CDC has been recommending it as standard practice since 2013.

But leave that aside. What actually is the benefit of MRI? Or even of the WWW invented in Switzerland? It is that we the peeps get our diseases cured, or that we the peeps get to send cat pictures to each other.

That Brit peeps get employed to make these things happen is a cost of the peeps being able to do these things, not a benefit.

The other way to make the same point is that being richer means we can consume more. Can we consume more because MRI, or the WWW, exists? Yep – so we’re richer. Who invented it, who builds the things, these are trivia compared to being able to have and use them.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The whole reason for the success of the WWW, the reason that people gravitated towards it over other solutions was precisely that it was open and free. If they’d licensed, or patented it or whatever, someone else would have created an open alternative and that would have won. Most of the protocols (and yes, TBL built some code, but it’s the protocol that matters) around the internet are open and free.

    And you don’t make money from this, you make money from what you do with it. We’re at a point where Microsoft are pretty much giving away their software tools and have open sourced much of it. Why? Because the money is now in the hosting. You get people into Microsoft stuff, and they’re likely to host it on Azure. It’s the thing of theme parks making more money from the hotels than the rides.

  2. I’m sure what they’re really bothered about is whether the UK is making enough dosh to allow it to afford its current luxurious life style. And can it afford something even more posh?

    Must admit I’m buggered if I know. But with the loathsome world the Greens wish to dump us all in, I suspect I’d probably like the good old days instead.

  3. One of the rickety businesses that I helped turn around was in auto spares. I needed a set of screwdrivers and made the mistake of buying it from them. Total crap and after the first use fit only for the dustbin. When I complained to the purchasing manager he said, “We buy this stuff to sell it not to use it.”

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