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INVENTING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

New Report Urges More Technologies That Address Social and Environmental Concerns

Washington, DC — Developing countries need more inventors and innovators—men and women who are committed to tackling poverty through the invention and application of new technologies.

That is one of the conclusions of a new report prepared by the Lemelson-MIT Program, with support from the National Science Foundation. The report says that while the economies of developing countries will benefit from technological innovation, these should be inventive solutions that serve both social and environmental goals as well as market demand.

“Creating economic opportunity and long-term stability in developing countries cannot be a matter of “business as usual,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, executive director of LEAD International and one of the authors of the report. “To date, the fruits of human ingenuity have bypassed some three billion people—the world’s poorest. Even the advances in standards of living that invention has provided for some have caused irreversible harm to the global environment. We need to focus on developing sustainable solutions to alleviate current problems and create future benefits for a global society.”

The report is the culmination of a year-long study by 56 leading experts drawn from the worlds of invention, research, business, not-for-profits and the media. The group was charged with the task of reviewing the pillars of invention and applying what we know about inventive ingenuity to solving some of our most pressing global problems.

The Lemelson-MIT report concludes that the incentives for invention and innovation for sustainable development—worldwide—are low, and barriers are high. To address these areas of need, the report makes several recommendations. These include:

  • In developing countries, special attention should be given to education reform to stimulate inventive creativity, interdisciplinary research and original thinking at all levels. Intergovernmental organizations, including UNESCO, could play a lead.
  • More attention should be directed to investing in local invention and innovation, particularly that which helps create employment and enterprises in poor countries. USAID and other bilateral donors should encourage and support more social entrepreneurship in such countries and stimulate counterpart agencies to do the same.
  • Corporations and banks should do more to promote sustainable development by understanding the specific needs of social entrepreneurs and providing them with access to finance, investment, mentoring and technical support. The benefits to corporations would include providing key entry points to new markets.
  • New models of intellectual property protection should be considered that would stimulate creativity and product diffusion to all areas of the world. Inventors and innovators everywhere should be given incentives to share their knowledge and market their products widely, in order to globalize the best ideas for sustainable development.
  • Efforts to promote inventive creativity should include assistance with human rights, freedom of speech, justice and the rule of law, since these are the environments in which inventive creativity can best flourish.

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Looking forward, the report advocates a focus on invention and innovation that will allow people around the world to enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.

“Globalization has made it impossible to consider this issue from anything other than an international perspective,” says Ehsan Masood, UK science journalist and another of the report’s authors. “Obstacles to inventiveness need to be tackled around the globe if we are to seriously move towards sustainable development. Both developed and developing countries need to focus on creating new solutions that avoid the old trap of solving one problem and creating another.”

Complete findings from INVENTION: Enhancing inventiveness for quality of life, competitiveness and sustainability will be released at noon on Wednesday, April 21st at the National Press Club. The report will be presented for review and discussion at an Invention Assembly, Friday, April 23, at 9:30 a.m. at the National Academy of Engineering.

The Assembly will present an integrated summary of the findings from five workshops comprising the invention study. Leading scholars and practitioners will examine the topic of invention from the perspectives of history, cognitive science, education, intellectual property law and sustainable development. Assembly participants will provide feedback on their report and public policy recommendations.

For more information on the final report or the Invention Assembly please visit:
http://web.mit.edu/invent/report.html

Each year, the Lemelson-MIT awards program honors both established and rising inventors, for their ingenuity, creativity and contribution to American invention. This year’s Lemelson-MIT Awards Ceremony will take place on the evening of Friday, April 23rd at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The awards ceremony will serve as the capstone to the Invention Assembly and will honor the 2004 winners of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize and the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award.

ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Lemelson-MIT Program aims to raise the stature of inventors and provide resources and inspiration to make invention and innovation more accessible to today's youth. It accomplishes this mission through outreach activities and annual awards, including the world's largest prize for invention—the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world's most prolific inventors, and his wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT Program in 1994 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy committed to honoring the contributions of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, and to inspiring ingenuity in others. More information on the Lemelson-MIT Program is online at http://web.mit.edu/invent.

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