Inventors, your country needs you!

The steam train, the television, the jet engine and even the web, are just a few of the revolutionary inventions the Brits have gifted to the world over the years.  Yet in 2010, is our proud tradition of invention at risk of becoming a thing of the past?

New research conducted by the British Library and invention development specialists, Innovate Product Design, has revealed that over half of the those working in the UK's creative industries, a staggering 52% of the 1000 people surveyed, have never had an idea for an invention!

  • 78% of respondents stated they believe the UK to be an innovative country
  • Yet of those of who responded to say they had come up with a potential invention, 67% reported having not developed it beyond that initial idea
  • In total fewer than 10% of those who stated having actually had an idea for an invention reported successfully developing it into a product
  • 55% of men who responded to the survey stated having had an idea for an invention at some point in the last 10 years compared to just 41% of female respondents, yet there was little difference when it came to developing their idea


Launching today (September 6, 2010), the British Library's “Inventing the 21st Century” exhibition will showcase the 15 of the most ingenious inventions to come out of the UK in the last decade.  Exploring the story behind each product and its journey from idea to market, this free exhibition aims to both inspire and inform a new generation of innovative Brits!    

Working closely with thousands of aspiring inventors every year through its specialist Business & IP Centre, as part of the exhibition the British Library has teamed up with the invention development specialists, Innovate Product Design, to assess the innovative potential of the UK. 

Where do people have ideas?
When asked where they were most frequently struck by ideas for inventions, most respondents stated 'at home' (24.3%) or 'at work' (21.5%), with 'In the Shower' (13.8%), 'in bed' (13.7%), and 'in their dreams' (10.9%) all scoring highly.  7% of respondents reported coming up with ideas for inventions whilst 'on the toilet'.

What prevents people investigating their invention ideas?
Encouragingly those surveyed did not state a lack of motivation or unwillingness to take the risk involved as primary reasons behind their decision not to develop their ideas.  Overwhelmingly the reasons were either due to a shortage of finance (40.8%) and/or a lack of technical knowledge or ability (40.5%).

What can be done to improve the situation?
When asked how they would improve the situation for the future, both improving access to business advice services (32%) and making additional funding available through government grants for inventors (30.7%) scored highly, but the most frequently voted for option was to place greater emphasis on invention in education (43.6%) to help bridge the skill gap preventing the effective development of ideas.

The British Library's Patent Expert and Curator of “Inventing the 21st Century”, Steve van Dulken, said:

“Britain has a proud tradition of invention, yet since the year 2000 we have slipped to 18th internationally in terms of world patent applications filed per million.  For example, in the early 1990s Britain was filing almost twice as many applications as France, yet by 2004 they had overtaken us and now file almost a third more than us. 

“Offering huge potential in terms of driving economic growth, it is important for Britain to reach its innovative potential and encourage those with ideas to explore them and turn that spark of inspiration into a reality." 

On the exhibition Steve said:

“Exploring the journey behind 15 of the most ingenious inventions to come out of the UK in the last ten years, “Inventing the 21st Century” aims to both inspire and inform a generation of aspiring British inventors, helping them to kick start economic recovery and uphold Britain's proud innovative tradition." 

Alastair Swanwick, Managing Director of invention development specialists, Innovate Product Design, said:

“This survey demonstrates people's misapprehensions surrounding the initial costs involved with patenting and developing new product ideas: innovation carries inherent risks but the investment can be kept low.

“Here at Innovate Product Design, we provide advice and support to help individuals get their products to market for a minimal outlay."

For more information on how the British Library and Innovate Product Design can help you investigate the potential of your invention ideas please visit or

Notes to Editors


Every year the UK generates over 25,000 patents, trademarks, and design rights for new products and services.  The inventions included in this exhibition have been selected from these by the British Library's resident patent expert Steve Van Dulken, author of numerous books on invention including “Inventing in the 21st Century”, which accompanies the exhibition.

  • The Double Broom -
    A double headed broom invented by 3 year old Samuel Houghton after watching his dad struggle to sweep up leaves in his back garden.
  • SeaRaser Wave Power Generator -
    A self cleaning, low maintenance wave energy device that uses just the motion of the waves to pressurise water through a system of floating pistons to create energy. Creators Dartmouth Wave Energy Limited say 11,000 units could generate enough power for the whole to UK and reduce energy bills by as much as three quarters.
  • Magnamole® DIY Solution -
    Dragons' Den winner by Sharon Wright that enables building contractors and home improvement enthusiasts to pass cables through cavity walls more quickly, easily and most importantly more safely.
  • Karbon Kinetics' Gocycle®
    An innovative, smart looking electric folding bike which allows users to go for up to an hour without recharging, reaching speeds of 15 mph
  • Money Saving Ewgeco® Energy Monitor
    Attached to a domestic or commercial power supply, this single device makes monitoring your usage of electricity, gas and water easy through a simple traffic light warning system.
  • All Terrain Trendy Trekinetic® Wheelchair
    With a wide wheelbase and a shock absorbing rear wheel, this radically redesigned wheelchair not only looks much cooler than traditional designs but has been designed with an active user in mind.
  • Lifesaver® Portable Water Filter
    Using a triple filter pump activated system to remove bacteria and viruses, as well as mud and dirt, Michael Pritchard's chemical free Lifesaver is literally saving lives - enabling victims of natural disasters quick and easy access to clean water.
  • Road Refresher® Dog Bowl
    A specially designed water bowl for dogs, the Road Refresher® enables dogs to drink as you drive and prevent the motion of the car spilling water everywhere. Despite failing to secure funding from Dragons' Den, inventor Natalie Ellis has gone on to crack the US market with her product - even the Whitehouse now has one!
  • Popi Open Packaging
    Packaging involves many often unseen innovations to ensure a cheap yet reliable product. Developed by the British Library's own Inventor in Residence, Mark Sheahan, Popi™ packaging provides easy access, re-sealable containers for all sorts of confectionary and cosmetic products.
  • Dyson's Bladeless Fan
    Know as the Air Multiplier®, the latest product from Dyson is 15x more efficient than standard existing fan technology, producing air in the base and amplifying it over an aerofoil hoop to create a smooth, powerful, un-buffeted blast of air.
  • Yoomi® Self-warming Baby Bottle
    At the press of a button this innovative baby bottle warms baby milk to the correct temperature every time, wherever and whenever require. Using a rechargeable warming device, the feed is heated in through a series of channels on the outside of the warmer - heating just the milk being drunk, whilst keeping the rest fresh.
  • Mosquito® Security System
    Emitting a high-pitched series of pulses, at 15.5 to 17.5kHz, which can only be heard by young people, this controversial device was designed to tackle anti-social behaviour by preventing groups of teenagers from hanging around in public places.
  • Speedo's Shark Inspired Swimsuit
    At the 2008 Beijing Olympics 94% of races were won by competitors wearing Speedo's high-tech new swimsuits. Designed to improve times by up to 4%, the cutting edge, water repellent design has been so effective, as of this year they are now banned from competitions amid allegations of 'technological doping'.
  • Optos' Revolutionary Retinal Scanner
    Using an ellipsoidal mirror to reflect a laser beam and provide high-resolution images in a single scan, the Optomat® retinal scanner has now been used in over 24 million eye examinations world wide and even helped to save the sight of one of the inventor's sons.
  • Automist - easy to install, this award-winning fire safety device uses just the domestic water supply from the kitchen tap to protect at-risk rooms from fire.


Regular British Library workshops and advice:

These sessions are on offer throughout the exhibition. For further information regarding dates and booking please go to

A Beginners Guide to IP
2 hours, held weekly

Ask an Expert - with Mark Sheahan, British Library Inventor in Residence
1 hour on application

Introducing Copyright
2 hours, held every two weeks

Introducing Patents Searching
2 hours, held every two weeks

Introducing Registered Designs
2 hours, held every two weeks

Introducing Trade Marks
2 hours, held every two weeks

Special Events Series:

The innovation pitch: raising money for emerging technologies
Monday 13 September
13.00 - 17.00
£35 +VAT, £15% off for British Library members

How do you pitch groundbreaking business ideas effectively to investors?

How to validate that new product idea
Thursday 16 September
13.30 - 17.00

Discover whether your idea could be turned into a profitable business.

Inventions Advice Clinics
Tuesday 21 September
10.00 - 17.00
£10, free for members of ideas21

Get advice on any area of developing, commercialising and licensing your inventions.

Be your own brand
Tuesday 21 September
10.00 - 16.00

As a designer or inventor you are your business. Learn more about promoting yourself and broadening your networks.

Ingenious Britons: Personal journeys in invention and design
Wednesday 22 September
18.30 - 21.00
£10, £7.50 concessions

A special event featuring inventors from the exhibition: ask them questions and hear their stories.

IP, Innovation and Investment
Tuesday 28 September
09.30 - 17.00

A practical conference to help you get the most value out of your intellectual property. Special keynote speaker; Julie Meyer.

Story of London Festival - keynote debate series
Monday 4 - Friday 8 October
18.30 - 20.00

The Mayor of London once again hosts the annual Story of London Festival which this year explores how innovation can support the capital's economic recover. Visit the British Library each night for a different debate with leading industry experts looking at the factors that will apply.

Ingenious women - Tip exchange
Thursday 7 October
11.00 - 13.00
£20, £10 for members of She's Ingenious!

A swap shop for women to exchange tips and experience, helping each other take their products successfully to market.

1st annual London Inventors' Club Meeting
Thursday 7 October
18.30 - 21.00

Free for members of London Inventor Clubs
It can be a lonely experience to take an invention through on to a business. Inventor Clubs are a fantastic means of peer support and expert advice.

All will meet at this special event and receive a private viewing of Inventing the 21st Century with exhibition curator, Steve van Dulken.

Beginners Guide to Business Finance
Friday 8 October
10.00 - 13.00

If you have what you believe is a great idea, then an understanding of business finance is the best way to increase your chance of raising finance and creating a viable business, and avoiding being another statistic.

Commercialising your idea
Tuesday 12 October
18.00 - 20.00

Patent & Trademark Attorneys Harrison Goddard Foote will lead this session on intellectual property strategy; helping you understand the extra value you create for what you spend.

Ask the Expert
Tuesday 26 October
18.00 - 20.00

Whatever your invention, whatever stage you're at, this interactive event promises to offer real solutions to problems you will face, in a relaxed and interactive environment  - ask expert IP specialist Dr Maria Anassutzi.

How to patent and protect new computer software
Thursday 4 November
14.00 - 16.00

There is so much confusion about how to protect your technology. This session will look closely at the ways you can be sure no one copies your computer software idea.

How to finance a new product or invention
Monday 8 November
16.30 - 18.30

Join this excellent session run by The Funding Game to truly understand what options are available to secure the much need cash injection to make your idea a reality.

Global Entrepreneurship Week - Innovation Day
Tuesday 16 November
10.00 - 13.00 & 14.00 - 17.00

Join us for the best networking session you've ever been to. Meet fantastic experts who can advise on intellectual property, licensing, manufacturing, route to market, money and more.

“Inventing the 21st Century” is open every day from 6 September to 28 November 2010 in the Folio Society Gallery at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB. Admission to the exhibition is FREE.

If you would like to know more about each of these inventions or any of the other inventions included in Steve van Dulken's book, “Inventing the 21st Century”, will be available from the 6 September from the British Library Book Shop and online via, priced £9.95.  

For more information:

Evenings and weekends:
+44 (0) 20 7412 7150

Press Office contacts

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

The British Library is the national library of the UK and one of the world’s greatest libraries. The Business & IP Centre, based at St Pancras in London, opened in March 2006 with the help of London Development Agency funding. Since then, it has welcomed over 350,000 people through the doors and has an excellent track record in supporting entrepreneurs and SMEs from all walks of life to start and grow businesses. The Centre provides free access to an unparalleled resource of business and intellectual property information (over £5 million worth), supplemented by one-to-one advice clinics, practical workshops and networking events, featuring ‘role model’ entrepreneurs.

The London Development Agency (LDA) works across the capital to unlock the potential of London and Londoners and sustain its economic growth by:
Supporting businesses to grow and succeed
Tackling climate change
Promoting London internationally
Catalysing local regeneration and improving the public realm
Helping workless Londoners to get into work and stay in work
Making the most of the business, skills and regeneration opportunities from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games