Skip navigation

In this issue...

Innovation – the centre of corporate strategiese
Lord Sainsbury, UK Minister for Science and Innovation
British Innovations
On the road again
Christopher Macgowan, Chief Executive, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders
Fossil Fuels – An Energy source for the Future
Greg Lewin, President, Shell Global Solutions
Chain of success
Kenny McKay, Director, and Will Wright, Manager, Restructuring practice at KPMG
Innovation and the Patent Office
Lawrence Smith-Higgins, Head of Awareness Information & Media The UK Patent Office
Benefits of association
Dr Michael Moore, CEO, PIramed Ltd
Innovation and strength in the UK biotech sector
Aisling Burnand, Chief Executive, BioIndustry Association
Simfonec: Helping make good research BIG business
Heron Evidence Development: Successful deal of missed opportunity
Springwell Ltd: Match-maker for Innovative Technologies
Korn/Ferry International: Pharmaceutical companies desire to break the mould
A quality core interface
Dominique Kleyn head of BioPharma Business Development, Imperial College London
Evolutec Group: Creating a range of commercial options
Moving forward
Dr Ceri Williams, Senior Manager, Science and Innovation at Yorkshire Forward and Dr Danielle Hankin, Bioscience Cluster Manager
Oxitech: Revolutionising SIT Programmes
Oxford Expression Technologies: Meeting the needs of the post-genomic era
Business Services
Innovating business related services
Norma Rose, Director-General, Business Services Association
BT: Innovation Strategy and Innovation Continuum
UK Film Council: How the UK wins in the international film industry?
On the defence
Major General Alan Sharman CBE, Director General, Defence Manufacturers Association
ProEtch: Precision parts of quality
Wallop Defence Systems: Aircraft Countermeasures and the Dual Spectral Threat
Education, Education, Education
Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education and Skills
Applied Sciences at Wolverhampton - Innovation in Higher Education Professor Trevor Hocking, Associate Dean, International Development
Wind energy
Marus Rand, Chief Executive, British Wind Energy Association
Vital energy
Ian Leitch, Commercial Director, Energy Industries Council
Waterman Group: Solutions to solve climate control legislation
Winning the war against germs
Dr Ron Mitchell, Managing Director, GB Environmental
Show me the money! Funding for innovation – who can help?
UK: Innovation Nation?
Launching the “Innovation Nation?” initiative
Innovation in the 21st Century
Gemma Harman, Director of Strategy & Media, BT Chief Technology Office
UK Manufacturing - a driving force for innovation
Andrew Manly, Director General, Manufacturing Technologies Association
Waterman Group: Single project model 3D
Renishaw: Achieving global manufacturing competitiveness in the UK
Yorkshire Forward
The European Nanotechnology Trade Alliance
Del Stark, Chief Executive, European Nanotechnology Trade Alliance
University research drives a new wave of innovation
Omar Cheema, Nanotechnology Business Development, Imperial College London
Oxford Instruments: Enabling nanoscience and nanotechnology
Semefab (Scotland): A real driver of change
Metal Nanopowders: New products that meet your needs
Regional Development
London Development Agency: One jump ahead
91Advantage West Midlands: At the heart of it all 95

British Innovations

What a great idea!

Alexander Graham Bell

The UK has been at the forefront of great ideas and has come up with innovations that have changed the world. The 20th century was a particularly creative period for great British inventions. You might be able to imagine life today without having a mousetrap to hand, but can you say the same about penicillin, television or the World Wide Web?

Britain has a history of invention and has always been at the forefront of research. In the 19th century Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and it is the innovation that took place in science, technology and transport which powered the industrial development and the growth of the British Empire.

Although in the 20th century the Empire began to disappear, the innovation and creativity of the British people didn?t and some of the most important innovations which have shaped the world we live in today were invented in the last 100 years or so in this country.


Not exactly the 20th century, but the telephone really only began to be widely used and available at the turn of the century. A pioneer in the field of telecommunications, Alexander Graham Bell was born in 1847 in Scotland. He moved to Ontario and then to the United States before beginning his career as an inventor. Throughout his life, Bell had been interested in the education of deaf people. This interest led him to invent the microphone and, in 1876, his ?electrical speech machine,? which we now call a telephone. News of his invention quickly spread throughout the country and by 1878, Bell had set up the first telephone exchange in New Haven, Connecticut. By 1884, long-distance connections were made between Boston, Massachusetts and New York City.

Since his death in 1922, the telecommunication industry has undergone an amazing revolution. Today, Alexander Graham Bell would be proud to see that non-hearing people are able to use a special display telephone to communicate. And his ?electrical speech machine? paved the way for the Information Superhighway without which we couldn?t live more elegant today.


A small invention that?s still around today James Henry Atkinson was the British inventor who in 1897 invented the prototype mousetrap known as the ?Little Nipper?. The ?Little Nipper? is the classic snapping mousetrap that we are all familiar with; very heavy it has a small fl at wooden base, a spring trap and wire fastenings. It slams shut in 38,000th of a second and that record has never been beaten. This is the design that has prevailed until today and has captured a 60% share of the UK?s mousetrap market and probably an equal share of the US market. Atkinson sold his mousetrap patent in 1913 for £1,000 to Procter, the company that has been manufacturing the ?Little Nipper? ever since. In his honour, the company has even erected a 150- exhibit mousetrap museum in their factory headquarters.

The jet engine was invented by Frank Whittle, an English aviation engineer and pilot


To many people this is probably the most useful and treasured invention of the 20th century. Most people have heard of the television?s inventor, John Logie Baird. A Scotsman, he studied at Glasgow University, in 1922 he applied himself to creating a television, a dream of many scientists for decades. His first crude apparatus sat on a washstand. The base of his motor was a tea chest, a biscuit tin housed the projection lamp, scanning discs were cut from cardboard, and he utilised also fourpenny cycle lenses. wood Scrap, darning needles, stringand sealing wax held the apparatus together.

By 1924 he managed to transmit across a few feet the fl ickering image of a Maltese cross and on 26 January 1926 he gave the world?s first demonstration of true television in his attic workshop before 50 scientists. In 1927 his television was demonstrated over 438 miles of telephone line between London and Glasgow, and he formed the Baird Television Development Company, Ltd. (BTDC).

In 1928 the BTDC achieved the first transatlantic television transmission between London and New York and the first transmission to a ship in mid-Atlantic. He also gave the first demonstration of both colour and stereoscopic television. In 1929 the German Post Office gave him the facilities to develop an experimental television service based on his mechanical system, the only one operable at the time. To begin with, sound and vision had to be sent alternately, and only began to be transmitted simultaneously from 1930.

However, Baird?s mechanical system was rapidly becoming obsolete as electronic systems were being developed, mainly by Marconi in America. Although he had invested in the mechanical system in order to achieve early results, Baird had also been exploring electronic systems from an early stage. Nevertheless, a BBC committee of inquiry in 1935 prompted a side-by-side trial between Marconi?s all-electronic television system, which worked on 405 lines to Baird?s 240. Marconi won, and in 1937 Baird?s system was dropped.

Although Baird is chiefly remembered for mechanical television, his developments were not limited to this alone. In 1930 he demonstrated big-screen television in the London Coliseum, as well as Berlin, Paris, and Stockholm. He televised the first live transmission of the Epsom Derby in 1931 and the following year he was the first to demonstrate ultra-short wave transmission.


Known as the ?wonder drug? and what was to be one of the most powerful of all antibiotics ? penicillin. This drug was to change the way disease was treated. Scottish born Alexander Fleming discovered one of the most important medical advances in history by accident but which cemented his name in medical history. On the morning of 3 September 1928, Professor Alexander Fleming was having a clear up of his cluttered laboratory. He was sorting through a number of glass plates that had previously been coated with staphyloccus bacteria as part of research he was doing. One of the plates had mould on it. The mould was in the shape of a ring and the area around the ring seemed to be free of the bacteria staphyloccus. The mould was penicillium notatum. Fleming had a life-long interest in ways of killing off bacteria and he concluded that the bacteria on the plate around the ring had been killed off by some substance that had come from the mould.

Further research on the mould found that it could kill other bacteria and that it could be given to small animals without any side effects. However, within a year, Fleming had moved onto other medical issues and it was 10 years later that Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, working at Oxford University, isolated the bacteriakilling substance found in the mould - penicillin. In 1941, a Dr Charles Fletcher, working at a hospital in Oxford had heard of their work. He had a patient who was near to death as a result of bacteria getting into a wound. Fletcher used some of Chain and Florey?s penicillin on the patient and the wound made a spectacular recovery. Unfortunately, Fletcher did not have enough penicillin to fully rid the patient?s body of bacteria and he died a few weeks later as the bacteria took a hold. However, penicillin had shown what it could do.

Florey got an American drugs company to mass produce penicillin and by D-Day 6th June 1944, enough was available to treat all the bacterial infections that broke out among the troops. Penicillin got nicknamed ?the wonder drug? and in 1945 Fleming, Chain and Florey were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine.

Sir Frank Whittle
Sir Frank Whittle


A British technological idea embraced by the Americans The jet engine was invented by Frank Whittle, an English aviation engineer and pilot. He was born in Coventry in 1907, joined an RAF fighter squadron in 1928 and became a test pilot in 1931. The young RAF officer was only 22 when he first thought to use a gas turbine engine to power an airplane. The young Frank Whittle tried without success to obtain official support for study and development of his ideas. He had to persist his research on his own initiative and received his first patent on turbojet propulsion in January 1930.

With private financial support, he began construction of his first engine in 1935. This engine, which had a single-stage centrifugal compressor coupled to a single-stage turbine, was successfully bench tested in April 1937. It was only a laboratory test rig but it did demonstrate the feasibility of the turbojet concept. The modern turbojet engine used in many British and American aircraft is based on the prototype that Frank Whittle invented. The firm of Power Jets Ltd, with which Whittle was associated, received a contract for a Whittle engine, known as the W1, on 7 July, 1939. This engine was intended to power a small experimental aircraft. In February 1940, the Gloster Aircraft Company was chosen to develop the aircraft to be powered by the W1 engine - the Pioneer. The historic first fl ight of the Pioneer took place on 15 May 1941, with Flight Lieutenant P E G. Sayer as pilot.

By October the Americans had heard of the project and asked for the details and an engine. A Power Jets team and the engine were fl own to Washington to enable General Electric to examine it and begin construction. The Americans worked quickly and their XP-59A Aircomet was airborne on 2nd October 1942, some time before the British Meteor, which became operational in 1944. The jet engine eventually proved to be a winner, particularly in America where the technology was enthusiastically embraced. In 1948, following the end of the World War II, Whittle retired from the RAF with the rank of Air Commodore. He was knighted in 1976, went to work in the US shortly afterwards and died 20 years later.

1935 ? CAT?S EYES

Cats Eyes have made nighttime driving a safer experience Anyone who?s a driver knows how valuable Cats Eyes are when driving at night. This device was invented by the Englishman Percy Shaw, born in Yorkshire in 1890. He invented it after he had been driving on a dark, winding road on a foggy night. He was saved from going off the side of the hill by a cat, whose eyes refl ected his car?s lights.

Percy Shaw set about inventing something similar to cats? eyes by inventing a small device with two marbles placed close together in a rubber casing. This would then be set in the road at intervals between the lanes of traffic. The device formed a small hump and would refl ect the oncoming car headlights to show the way ahead. Percy was not a man to forget a detail and he realised that his new invention would quickly get dirty and stop refl ecting the light, so he put a small depression where the marbles were which would fill with water every time it rained. Any car wheel passing over the device would press the marbles into the depression, forcing the water out and cleaning the marbles. In 1935 he formed his own company and named his invention after the inspiration that gave him the idea, Catseye®.

Shaw formed his own company, Refl ecting Roadstuds Ltd, to manufacture his device and the patent was published in 1936. The wartime blackout boosted production and the firm developed into a 20-acre site in Yorkshire, making more than a million roadstuds a year, which were exported all over the world. For his invention, Shaw was awarded the OBE in 1965 and died in September 1976.


One of the most useful inventions, particularly for those of us who are enumerate. And an environmentally friendly vehicle which never quite caught on Sir Clive Sinclair, born in 1939 to a family of engineers, is a British inventor who pioneered the home microcomputer market in the early 1980s, with the introduction of low-cost, easy to use 8-bit computers produced by his company, Sinclair Research. Sinclair also invented and produced a variety of electronic devices from the 1960s to 1990s, including pocket calculators (he marketed the first pocket calculator in the world), radios, and televisions.

But perhaps he is most famous (or some might say notorious) for his range electric vehicles, especially the Sinclair C5, introduced in 1985. From his early days at school he independently invented the binary system while working on a protocalculator and was disappointed to discover that it had already been invented. When the magazine Practical Wireless advertised for an editorial assistant he applied and got the job. Sinclair found himself running the magazine single-handedly at age 17. But the work took just a fraction of the week so he had lots of spare time to design circuits, which were published in the magazine.

In 1961 he registered Sinclair Radionics Ltd as a company, having spent some time designing a pocket transistor radio and finding backing, which unfortunately was later withdrawn. Sinclair had to find work quickly, which he did with United Trade Press as a technical editor. Sinclair Radionics lasted until 1979, with various products and company spin-offs. Beginning with a mini-amplifier, the company quickly earned a name for design, quality and pioneering ideas. Miniaturisation, at which Sinclair proved himself so talented, was also a key idea. In 1962 he marketed the world?s first pocket calculator, in 1976 the world?s first digital wristwatch and in 1977 came the first pocket TV.

The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 with the first working system deployed in 1990

Unfortunately the Midas touch deserted Sinclair with the production of a new concept in personal transport: the Sinclair C5. This used a small motor powered by rechargeable batteries. The C5 was smaller and lower than the family car of the time and had three wheels. The combination proved too extreme for the British public. It received a bad press, being widely condemned as unsafe and impractical. Interestingly, however, since then, car manufacturers have decided that the small car market is the one with most potential for growth and have worked towards Ecofriendly transport. With car pollution and gridlock threatening most major cities, the C5 might have been a prophetic solution to a problem few saw looming in the distance. If it had been four-wheeled and produced only as a concept car to guide the market who knows?


Information at our fingertips and now we can?t imagine how we ever did without it. The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 with the first working system deployed in 1990, while he was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. He went on to found the World Wide Web Consortium, which seeks to standardise and improve World Wide Web-related things such as the HTML mark-up language in which web pages are written and he coined the phrase ?World Wide Web?.

He started out on his road to success while he was at Queen?s College, Oxford in 1976. While he was there he built his first computer with a soldering iron, TTL gates, an M6800 processor and an old television. After he graduated he spent two years with Plessey Telecommunications Ltd, a major UK Telecom equipment manufacturer, working on distributed transaction systems, message relays and bar code technology. In 1978 Berners-Lee left Plessey to join D G Nash Ltd, where he wrote typesetting software for intelligent printers and a multitasking operating system. Eighteen months spent as an independent consultant included a six month stint as consultant software engineer at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland.

Tim Berners-Lee
Tim Berners-Lee

While he was there he wrote his first program for storing information, including using random associations. This program formed the conceptual basis for the future development of the World Wide Web. In 1989, Berners-Lee proposed a global hypertext project, to be known as the World Wide Web. It was designed to allow people to work together by combining their knowledge in a web of hypertext documents. He wrote the first World Wide Web server, ?httpd? and the first client, ?WorldWideWeb? a what-you-see-iswhat- you-get hypertext browser/editor.

This work was started in October 1990 and the program ?WorldWideWeb? first made available within CERN two months later, and on the Internet in the summer of 1991. Through 1991 and 1993 Berners continued working on the design of the Web, coordinating feedback from users across the Internet. His initial specifications of URSs, HTTP and HTML were refined and discussed in larger circles as the web technology spread.

Berners-Lee is director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which coordinates web development worldwide. The Consortium aims to lead the Web to its full potential, ensuring its stability through rapid evolution and revolutionary transformations of its usage. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) for his work on the web in 2003.

For more information visit