Whose Idea Exactly?



A new study from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) tracking the demographics of innovation in the US has revealed some surprising facts about the face of innovation in America. The study surveys people who are responsible for some of the most important innovations in America, including people who have won national awards for their inventions, filed for patents for their ideas in three technology areas (information technology, life sciences, and materials sciences), and innovators who have filed triadic patents for large advanced-technology companies. In total, 6,418 innovators were contacted, and 923 provided viable responses. The results verify several things we already knew, but also call into question some long held beliefs.

According to the study, More than one-third (35.5 percent) of U.S. innovators were born outside the United States, even though this population makes up just 13.5 percent of all U.S. residents. Another 10 percent of innovators were born in the United States but have at least one parent born abroad, and more than 17 percent of innovators are not U.S. citizens. The US has always been a nation of immigrants, but these findings drive home just how much they continue to contribute to American society. On a less encouraging, but not surprising, note, women represent only 12 percent of U.S. innovators. U.S.-born minorities (including Asians, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other ethnicities) make up just 8 percent of U.S.-born innovators. At a time when diversity is at the forefront of our national conversation the report provides a reminder of the lingering effects of decades of discrimination. Despite increased recognition of the contributions from people like Hedy Lamarr and George Washington Carver, STEM fields are still dominated by white men. One particularly startling result found that approximately 60 percent of private-sector innovations originate from businesses with more than 500 employees,and only 16 percent originate from firms with fewer than 25 employees. This calls into question the legitimacy of the American Dream mythology of the young inventor toiling in his garage before hitting it big.

If you want to learn more, you can read the complete executive summary, or check out the full report.