According to many economists, the health of any economy increasingly depends upon that economy’s ability to innovate. A recent report by the Brookings Institution finds the US is still a very creative economy. But there are some clouds on the horizon. The report indicates that inventiveness and innovation (as measured by patent generation) varies considerable from region to region. In addition, there are some overall concerns about the US’s ability to sustain its preeminence as an inventive economy:
First, while R&D spending continues to increase at roughly the same rate as GDP,there is evidence that inventions are becoming more expensive, more difficult, and more internationally competitive such that an even deeper commitment will be needed in both the near term and thereafter. Moreover, as the nation addresses its public finance problems, there will be pressure to cut R&D support. In fact, the federal commitment has already been shrinking in that spending has not kept up with GDP. This trend should be reversed. The public sector has a vital role to play in supporting innovation and invention.Second, the nation’s unequal access to high quality schooling means that too few—especially those born into lower income families—are academically prepared to meaningfully contribute to invention,and that not only delimits economic opportunity, it deprives the innovation system of a large number of people who might otherwise make or commercialize important discoveries. . . This was not the case during America’s most productive decades of the industrial revolution—after the Civil War and into the early 20th Century—when patenting was “democratized” and mostly done by blue collar workers, many of whom were not professional inventors.