back to article How Britain could have invented the iPhone: And how the Quangocracy cocked it up

This is a disturbing, cautionary tale of quasi-government and its bungling. It describes how Britain could have led the recent advances in touchscreen technology, developing kit capable detecting more than one fingertip at once, years before Apple did – if it weren't for the nation's treacle-footed, self-serving quangocracy. …


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    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Why NESTA and who else?

      A good question, one answered by the inventor in Part 2, which we'll publish on Monday.

      The inventor himself in Spring 2004 urged Nesta to contact Apple, amongst other companies, to help fund and develop the work.

      This was not something that would have interested a sort-term speculative VC, as there was no immediate "product" forthcoming in 12 months or so. Such is the nature of R&D. So it was quite natural that he thought a specialist arm of the state might be able to help.

  1. Paul Hampson 1

    What has this to do with Apple?

    "developing kit capable detecting more than one fingertip at once, years before Apple did"

    -Why is apple the big deal here? They invented nothing to do with multi-touch technology which are why all their patents concern doing things with multi-touch rather than multi-touch itself.

    By and large all of the technology in the iphone was previously used by other companies. In the mobile sphere they excel at interface design and marketing, they do not invest much in technology per se (comparatively when compared to Microsoft, Samsung or Nokia) and consequently were not the competition to this UK inventor.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What has this to do with Apple?

      The reason Apple's investment appears so low compared with other companies is because of the way comparisons are done.

      First, Wall Street compares companies by their investment as a percentage of revenue. If you invest a billion dollars a year and have $10 billion in revenue, that's 10%, a huge investment by their measure. If you invest $2 billion a year but have $200 billion in revenue, that's 1%, a paltry investment by their standards. Apple's revenue is well above that of Microsoft and Nokia, and close behind Samsung, so the measures aren't all equal. Apple invests more than Nokia EARNS, so the idea they don't invest like Nokia is laughable.

      Samsung brings up the second half the equation. They don't just operate in the tiny market segment Apple does, they sell all that plus everything from TVs to washing machines to oil drilling platforms (via Samsung's Heavy Industries division) Their revenue is counted across all that. More importantly, their INVESTMENT is counted across all that. I can't imagine the next version of their oil drilling platform will be cheap to develop, but it counts in their investment dollars, while Apple invests nothing developing oil drilling platforms.

      Apple has also grown far faster than these companies in the past five years. That growth has slowed down now, but when your revenues grow 10x larger in such a short time you can't upgrade your investing at the same pace, it takes some time to catch up. So Apple's investment looked to be "declining" to Wall Streeters who only look at the percentage, thus the constant complaint that Apple is under investing.

      They're budgeted to be investing nearly $10 billion this next fiscal year. Does that sound like a small amount? Considering how relatively little they spent to develop the iPhone and iPad, one wonders exactly what they could be spending that much money on. Maybe they will introduce something in the next few years where they develop all the technology themselves, and move beyond making well functioning products where none existed previously (you can argue that nothing in the iPhone didn't exist elsewhere, but there were no phones that had them all in one package, and certainly nothing that offered anything remotely close to the user experience it did) Those who hate Apple and claim they're incapable of ever inventing anything can console themselves that if this occurs, some of it will undoubtedly be due to the purchases of small companies to gain access to their technology (as they did with Fingerworks to get the multitouch technology)

  2. Super Fast Jellyfish


    I agree that Nesta was shit and the money pitiful but why didn't Andrew Fentem patent his idea?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Patent?

      Think back to 2004, patents (particularly software patents in the UK) wren't such a big thing then - much of our current thinking and awareness of software patents has come about through the patenting of "slide to unlock" and other trivia by Apple who then proceeded to throw their money behind court proceedings. Also I suspect that Andrew didn't really feel that his work was sufficiently complete to patent or to really be able to identify and articulate what his invention really was.

      Obviously today we (well some) know that Marconi, merely patented the particular configuration of third-party components (ie. other people's inventions) that resulted in a working radio; but his brilliance was in arriving at that particular configuration and then taking it forward from there.

      I look back at my works and see many idea's and pieces of work that could (and perhaps should) of been patented but for various reasons weren't, combined with opportunities that I should of taken but at the time failed to fully grasp.

  3. Irongut Silver badge

    A very good article that highlights issues I have seen with innovations my father tried to commercialise with government help from the 80s to the present day. He never managed to make a penny from things he invented in the 80s that I now see being re-invented today.

    "no one at Nesta has a science or engineering background" - this, no idea how business functions in the real world and a complete lack of accountability among the civil service are the biggest problems this country faces. If we are to avoid sliding furhter into mediocracy and irrelevance we need to replace the old boys educated in the classics at Eton with some real people who know more than a couple of dead languages and have actually worked in their life. Unfortunately I doubt it will ever happen.

    1. Hans 1

      Sadly, replacing the guyz at the top with guyz from the bottom changes nothing for us, worse, look what communism lead to ...

      Unfortunately, only idiots and/or selfish bastards strive for power.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We've always been crap at turning ideas into money in the UK.

    The real problem is getting patent protection at an affordable rate here. So the ideas either get ripped off or sold cheaply to the US because there's no protection on the ideas.

  5. domino316

    Applied for small grant to do some lab testing with Tech Strategy Board, refused first time, resubmitted addressing points raised (as allowable), declined again with lower scores, asked how this was possible considering the same content was included and expanded upon.

    The responded by saying it had been sent to the wrong group of assessors so was sent to the first group again (who scored it higher) but TSB still declined, requested the feedback, which showed the independent assessors all recommended it be supported. TSB said it did not meet score threshold, erm yes it did by quite a margin, decided then and there they were a waste of space, though they are happy to give companies like Rolls Royce and Airbus millions for R & D.

    NESTA said "great idea but far too small an amount for us to be interested in".

  6. Stevie


    I got my start in IT working for a machine tool company in Coventry in the late 70s. It isn't there any more and was failing even as I signed my contract of employment mainly because what money was spent on R&D was too much D and almost no R.

    Research would have told the company that the world was moving into a plastic/single spindle/NC era and that there was no market for the cast iron/single spindle/hydraulic control machine they had built even though it would outlast the Placcy Jap machine by decades.

    Lots of development costs though. They built three of the new model and they sat in the showroom for years. Biggest doorstops in the world.

    But then we had a corporate structure built on the Grace Brothers model (seriously: two canteens, one for monthly paid staff the other for the weekly paid scruffs) and you couldn't tell management anything they didn't already know.

    And I worked for the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert (again, seriously. Separated at birth). Knew nothing about computers and was proud of it. He was a manager you see. He "had people" to "do things".

    1. phil dude

      Re: Bah!

      For some non-Brits, I think they could be excused for thinking Grace Brothers was a documentary on British life...


  7. JP19

    Nothing to see here move along

    Pack of wankers (politicians) appoint and pay another pack of wankers to fritter away money donated by the arithmetically challenged.

    Nothing I find surprising.

  8. Neil Hoskins

    I don't think...

    ... the iPhone's success was because of its touchscreen; I think it was because it was made by Apple and was therefore cool and shiny. The fanbois and bloggers and tech-journos-who-should-have-known-better like the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones then wouldn't stop blathering on about the sodding thing. The only reason that everybody has followed suit is that the Apple spin doctors have convinced everybody that that's what they want. Personally, I hate bloody capacitive touchscreens: most people's fingers are too fat to get any real control, and you end up with smudges all over your screen - it's complete madness.

  9. ProfessorLarry

    Not Invented Here?

    History is riddled with tales of inventors who were screwed over or not credited or who just missed out. And very often, history eventually reveals that whatever we may have thought, some widget or technique was actually invented earlier or by someone else. Somebody or some company or some country gets (or takes) the credit, and that's what the history books and the patent offices record. Consider the big Darwin celebrations and the "rediscovery" of Alfred Wallace and how the Royal Society conspired...

    Hell, I am co-inventor with a US patent on the technique that Apple used to let users know they were actually ejecting a disc not discarding it in the recycle bin yet never received a shilling or even a thank you. That's just how things work in the real world.

    In the frenetic and fractured world of high tech, a majority of good things are no doubt independently "invented" by many people at more or less the same time. Most of them will never be recognized or benefit. And most will not even have a dysfunctional quango to pass the blame onto.

    --Prof. Larry Constantine (pen name, Lior Samson)

  10. airbrush

    Despite the evidence..

    The UK has become a world leader in the arts in the past 20 years and this sector of the economy is pretty successful so can't have been all bad.

  11. Kubla Cant Silver badge


    games like ... interactive carpeting

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I have to say that "interactive carpeting" sounds like the dullest game ever. I assume that it's a computer simulation of the thrill-packed life of a carpet fitter.

  12. Don Jefe

    Ideas and Business

    Many, many businesses fail because there's a huge disconnect between what people think has value and what has actual value. An idea is worth precisely nothing, zero, if you don't realize the idea. The same is true of excuses for failure to realize the idea, excuses are worth precisely zero.

    Every single business will face seemingly insurmountable challenges, and it is how you manage those challenges that determines if your business, and your idea are successful. The idea, and the business, are worthless if you can't deal with the unique challenges you will face. For some it is regulatory interference, for some it is personnel management, for some it is distribution, for some it is competition, for some it is physics and for a very, very small group their challenge is actually funding (all the money on the world won't help 90%+ of businesses).

    It does not matter what your challenge is, if it beats you that means you failed. Full stop. The failure is not, automatically, a reflection on your abilities, not all battles can be won, but again, it doesn't matter. At all. You failed, that is the only thing that matters.

    The (very informative and well written article) is nothing more than the story of a business that failed in its first significant challenge. If you have dreams of global success in any field that are derailed by a minor semi-government agency then dreams is all you're ever going to have. If a minor challenge like in this story bests you, then there was never any hope of defeating a real regulatory challenge, much less an actual competitor.

    Being overwhelmed by a system that is, ostensibly, supposed to help you isn't a positive indicator of potential. If the people helping you get the best of you, an actual competitor, someone who actively seeks to undermine you will certainly not have a problem. If you can't beat the system you'll never beat someone else who has.

    This is an unfortunate story, but anything past the fail part, is a fairy tale. A lot of the commenters are lost in that part, the fairy tale part, as well. In business there is no such thing as an almost, or a could have been. There is only failure and success and it doesn't matter how you get to either of them. The second you forget that you've just joined the ranks of the failed.

  13. WatAWorld

    Don't blame the Quango for your inability to find industry funding

    The economy must not depend on Quangos providing venture capitol.

    And no entrepreneur should seek funds from only one source.

    You need to be prepared to have delays, run arounds, and denials of funding from any given source of funds.

    Private venture capitolists. Other inventors. Other technology people. Do not depend on quangos.

    Do not blame quangos.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You win some, you lose some - stop whining.

    There isn't really any blame to apportion here at all.

    You win some, you lose some.

    It's really easy to sit on a high horse today talking about touchscreens which are everywhere, when back in the day it was unproven in terms of consumer take up and likelihood to succeed.

    It's also the job of these government agencies to be prudent with cash. On this occasion they messed up in hindsight. Somebody I really feel sorry for is Trevor Bayliss, he got properly screwed over and taken advantage of by Labour.

    Alan Sugar brought double deck tape recorders and word processors to everyones homes in the 80's and made himself £500m and a company with 50% of the PC market in Europe, But by the 2000's he completely cocked up with mobile phones, called Apple stupid, slagged off Orange and kept trying to flog some dated emailer phone thing.....same again...

    You win some, you lose some.

  15. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    Positively now

    Then we and he did not know what to do or where to go. However we are sentient beings and learn from our mistakes.

    So where should the next inventor go (bearing in mind that the more people or organisations in the loop the less secure the new idea becomes)?

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Positively now

      Two things I'll say from my role with a VC group in Washington DC:

      As far as where to go, I'll tell you what I tell anyone I talk with. Go where there's a customer. Make that first sale and go where that leads you. Until you've got at least one paying customer you do not have a business. Full stop. You've got an accounts payable department.

      Whatever your grand plans may be, they go directly out the window when you land your first customer. Every single thing you do from that point forward will be determined by who that customer turned out to be, what you actually sold them and what you've got to do to sell more. Those three things are very often surprises for everyone involved.

      About a half dozen proposals a month make it to my desk and I might actually talk to two of them, maybe. But anytime a proposal comes up and they've got a functional balance sheet (meaning any kind of revenue) I will always call them. Always. Even if I'm not remotely interested, I might know someone who can help them, and they've got my attention because they have an actual business. It doesn't need to be profitable at that point, or even have a clear view of when that might be, but if they've got just one sale under their belt they are 100% closer to success than all the other dreamers out there.

      Second part:

      The notion of a unique idea is a fallacy. Someone has thought of it, guaranteed. Ideas aren't your job. Your job as an entrepreneur is to make money with the idea. That's the hard part, everybody's got ideas, but most people have no idea how to make money with the ideas. The people that can help you give exactly zero shits about your idea. They'll help you because you've figured out how to make money with the idea. That's what they're buying into, your vision of how to monetize (x), doesn't matter what it is. You and your plan to make money with an idea is what they're investing in, nothing else.

      Go wherever you've got to go to get the resources you need. When we add a company to our portfolio the first checks we write are almost always to the family and friends of the principals. We're buying up the 'emotional debt' that's a hinderace as well as proof that people believe in you. If you can't beg or borrow enough money from those close to you to get rolling, then why are you asking me for money?

      And as far as someone stealing your idea, it is a risk (get used to those), but legitimate investors aren't in the business of stealing ideas to run businesses with, that's too much work and we've already done it. You'll have to put your ideas out in public forums, no way around it, but everybody there is going to be focused on their idea, not yours.

      Besides, as I said earlier, it's your money making plans that matter and those will be confidential. Anyone who is interested enough to question the financials will provide you with a bilateral NDA that protects you and them. You'll have the opportunity for your own lawyer to review it as well if you like. If you've actually made it to money discussions you're in serious territory then and money is on the line, monkey business has been checked at the door.

      Lastly, don't ask your government for help. Unless you're in China or Zimbabwe. They generally mean well but they will strangle you to death, by accident.

      1. phil dude
        Thumb Up

        Re: Positively now

        An excellent post.


      2. Mage Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Positively now: Lastly:

        "Don't ask your government for help. Unless you're in China or Zimbabwe. They generally mean well but they will strangle you to death, by accident."

        Yes. I discovered this with LEDU and NIDA etc in 1980s, £10,000 and it wasn't worth it. We ended up employing 11 people and making a profit by the time DeLoran closed. He got millions the same time they gave us £10,000. Because he lied. The UK never even checked his story of Shannon Development approval (IDA and Shannon Development thought it was a con and turned him down).

        Under powered "sports car". Vibration made the steel skin come off the fibreglass. All this was obvious before the Gov gave him his millions.

        Any Government will strangle you with bureaucracy. Apple wasn't successful due to good ideas with iPod then iPhone. Both pre-existing products. Ideas are nice, but having money and good marketing is the reason Apple is successful. Neither Jobs or Bill Gates were POOR students. Even their own families had enough money to fund their start. Jobs built his marketing on Woz's ideas initially and Gates repackaged Dartmouth Basic.

        I'm all in favour of R&D and Innovation and Engineering, But that's maybe 10% of what is needed for a successful business. The rest is equal dollops of Hard Work, Money, Marketing and Luck!

        Apple was very lucky as well with the iPhone because of the incompetence of Nokia, RIM and MS:

        Nokia lost the plot on UI and R&D about 2002

        RIM was a niche product

        MS fixated on having ONE GUI and identity of OS (So CE was a stupid miniaturisation of Desktop, now the Desktop is a stupid enlargement of Zune)

        Other "players" were too small and under the radar. Apple cut down OS X to iOS but bought in a decent GUI instead of miniaturising Mac GUI. All the rest was pretty much of the shelf. I built a 4G touch screen myself before the iPhone came out but didn't have a decent GUI and knew it (it didn't matter either, as it was only a Proof of Concept demo of the 4G Flarion Modem, then bought by Qualcomm) .

        The iPod success was down to copying Deiter Rams' Braun styling and marketing, also simply being Apple. Other MP3 players as good.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hesitated before replying but as somebody who worked at NESTA in the Invention and Innovation team, I cannot let some of this pass. I am regular reader and I am disappointed with the quality of reporting in this article. It is not balanced and would appear to be written based on a single source, without some basic fact-checking.

    I cannot comment on Andrew Fentem's particular case but:

    1) I&I was one small part of NESTA. We had an annual investment budget of £2.5m-£3m. The rest of the organisation received £12.5m+ in endowment interest and a substantial additional government grant annually. NESTA's total budget was £20m+ total.

    2) We had plenty of scientists and engineers. One compsci + natsci from Cambridge; one molecular biology PhD from Cambridge; one physics PhD from Cambridge; one mathematician; one mathematical economist and one lifesciences masters.

    3) Every other part of NESTA was either involved in "self-preservation and PR" (that describes the Strategy and Communications function accurately, which ate the lion's share of the budget like the Stasi in the DDR) or various Arts programmes. I&I were the uncool, nerdy people who read the footnotes, asked quantitiative questions and did not share the love. At the first opportunity, we were move to the basement and subsequently hidden in a different building entirely with the IT department and Finance!

    4) The maximum investment we could make was initially £100k, I think. It was subsequently increased to £250k and then eventually to a sensible amount that can actually start a business. We had argued for a larger investment limit from the beginning but for a long-time it was seen by the Trustees as being too risky to actually commit significant venture capital rather than scattering feel-good seedcorn among mad inventors.

    4) NESTA had started by trying to make light touch agreements with "awardees", based around a royalty on future sales, rather than forcing people to incorporate. These were unworkable in our view, leaving individuals exposed with unlimited personal liability as sole traders and making it very difficult for them to raise VC if successful with our seed money. It also initially made all award decisions using the same committee, from clowns to enterprise software. We moved NESTA to a model of investing for equity in companies (which explains why the royalty income after five years was negligible) and running a VC-type process for angel-size investments. We had co-investments with Apax, Wellcome Trust, Oxford Technology, Quester, 3i etc.

    In summary, NESTA's initial approach needed changing (like every business plan) but we made many improvements (and could have made many more if NESTA had not abandoned direct investment) and this article paints an unfair picture of the work we did. The proof of the pudding is in the eating: there have been various good exits from the portfolio (Tideway Systems acquired by BMC; Cambridge Bluegnome acquired by Illumina; Hba1c test sold to Cholestech then Inverness Medical; Nanosight sold to Malvern Instruments). Some others are in £mm of revenue but not yet exited. An awful lot of the others have failed, which is what you would expect with early-stage VC.

  17. itzman

    A working rule of thumb

    These organisation do not exist to further technological innovation: they exist to fulfil a political need to have the ammunition ready in case someone is accused of 'not doing enough about X Y or Z'.

    Raising the issue of whether the organisation is achieving aims which were never part of its brief, is simply hot air.

    The confusion arises out of the failure to realise the real purpose is not the stated purpose.

    The real purpose is to be seen to be putting funds into technological innovation, not to actually achieve any.

  18. Mr. Peterson
    Paris Hilton

    if it weren't for the nation's treacle-footed...

    just curious: here in The States, 'like molasses in January' is an oft heard phrase - what of 'like treacle in January' in Jolly Olde?

  19. aurizon

    Strangulation by committee

    The British way or should I say the socialist way. The organizations created by the governments are staffed by good old boys, who have achieved the ability to share brain cells, and a single one at that.

    They have no staff people on the cutting edge of the technology as Fentem was. All the staffers knew nothing, their qualifications were achieved by socio-political means. That meant they lacked the ability to see and comprehend ANY SORT of technical matters.

    Fentem did very well indeed - he should have emigrated to the USA where he would have been snapped up by any one of a number of companies.

    However, change in the UK is needed, as it is also needed in Europe who also suffer from this same political strangulation. Politicians can not and never will be able to recognize this and the UK way of control and funding is broke and needs to be replaced. Even now the same old crap is killing british science as the funds are now wasted and diverted too political warm bodies who know and do nothing (that same shared brain cell idea - how smart can they be.

    The USA meddles less in companies and taxes less, so money for projects is easier to make, and people also have a culture of taking investment flyers on NEWCOs, while the British monied classes want to clip coupons.

    How to change this - Guy Fawkes had the right idea, but his execution failed.

    We need the ability to create a government body that can detect good ideas and toss away crooked schemes. Will it happen in the UK? Will this type of loss be repeated ad nauseum? Hard to say, but we need to get rid of all labor politicians and get some sort of technocracy going

  20. Peter Johnston 1

    Unfortunately the Technology Strategy Board makes NESTA look efficient and organised. Appallingly bureaucratic, inconsistent and disorganised.

  21. Christian Berger

    But companies are no way to foster innovation

    Companies have multiple problems when it comes to innovation. If you have ever worked in a real company you know that Dilbert is not an exaggeration. On the other hand, companies tend to delay advances, for example with patents.

    What we need for further progress is a more scalable model for development. Free Software hints some ideas for such a model. Operating system kernels like Linux are a typically beyond the capabilities of a single company. (with few exceptions) Another example is the Internet which has by far outpaced any of its commercial competitors and even the ones run by telephone companies. Few people even remember Compuserve or the X.25 networks which still run today.

    We need to stop thinking of companies as bringers of innovation.

  22. ADJB

    Interesting - I didn't realise that Andrew Orlowski also writes for the Daily Mail under the name Nicholas Booth.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      He doesn't. Welcome to Fleet Street.


  23. nerdy but nice

    It's not the state that's the problem...

    The danger of this article is it lends credence to the crude anti-state ideologues, who resort to the old chides about ‘picking winners’ and so on. This is all very well and boring, but isn’t born out by numerous cases where the state has funded highly successful enterprises. South Korea’s LG, and Frances EDF (who now run so much of our own privatised electricity infrastructure) come to mind. But it depends on the culture of the state...

    To indulge in a bit of speculative sociology about all this – maybe the issue is less the role of the state per se, and more the specific historic problems of New Labour as it lost its bearings in embracing the market and its own brand of creative libertarianism. When market reforms were introduced (by the Thatcherites and by New Labour) into the actual interior functioning of the state, they problematised certain ideals of government. What this meant was that a whole set of governmental rationalities, procedural and organisational understandings, and standards of judgement were, if not lost, then skewed.

    As New Labour continued the project of bring the market as a rationality into the workings of the state, they had to fundamantally alter their own anti or counter market values. The euphoric freedom and anxieties of undertaking so radical a revision of their own founding socialist principles, meant they came to believe that they were making the world anew. All the rules were off. The internet boom, the new millennium, Charles Leadbetter et al added to the heady atmosphere.

    Into this wide open new world, the post-1968 left’s version of expressive individualism (Blair the Grateful Dead wannabe etc) came to offer new possibilities to reshape the very subjectivity of government agents through the affective ideals of creativity. Where the free market revolution is the revolution of the individual over the collective, the Conservative version was the revolution of the Instrumental Individual. The New Labour version imbued into this the revolution of the Romantic Individual. Perhaps this is partly a legacy of a left wing belief in wanting people to believe in the cause, to invest their role with subjectivity, rather than simply act on orders. In so doing it seems they opened the state to novel forms of governmental behaviour including informal forms of decision making, a tolerance of personal relationship, and a blurring of the lines between personal gain and public office. All this is what was going on in Andrew Fentem’s story. At the heart of government a fundamental ability to judge what ought to be done was set adrift and it went well beyond this story – it contributed to an acquiesence in the face of the creativity of the financial markets, and to the decision to take the UK to war in Iraq.

    What we call this is a moot point. If we accept the new world of New Labour, that the pieces were in flux, and the new standards of behaviour and judgement were for us to creatively adapt and make anew, we might call this itself governmental innovation, or modernisation, in the interest of a generally more creative, more fluid, society and economy. The very sense of its slippery frisson might seem the guarantee of its efficacy in the new world of globalisation and celebrity. If we hold ourselves to the 'old' ideals and standards, we would call it corruption. I would like to think that beyond these two positions there are a whole range of ways the state might work to do a better job than this. As it is, this is all academic, as the current government is now simply seeking to dismantle the government – and in bitter irony, it is the failures of that marketisation of the state (rather than the state per se) that gives them the proof they need to claim the state is by definition moribund.

    Anyway, you get my point, the article doesn't prove that the state per se is ineffective in supporting major industrial innovation. It’s just a small part in the story of how the lot that happened to be in power at the time were in many ways a bit daft.

  24. Vision Aforethought

    So I wasn't the only one!

    (Got to this article via the Daily Mail.) Approx 10 years ago I applied to NESTA too and this is pretty much what I discovered at the time. 1. I contacted them about something similar, IE, a high tech invention that my company had actually developed (related to online mapping etc), and only now has Google maps even come close. 2. The staff sounded like rail workers/traffic wardens/council jobsworths, not very well educated, and more like the sort of grumpy insecure self hating old fart you would find in a pub at 4pm. 3. I was advised that I only stood a chance (this is not a joke, and the examples in the article above validate this) if I was a black lesbian wanting to open a hair salon. In other words, a minority. (Not sure how the gov would get their money back from that!) Toxic damaging left wing prejudice at it's worst, and like Mr. Fentem, a loss to this nation. I'm taking my technology to the US where there is considerable interest. Mr. Fentem, if you are reading this, track me down via twitter, my ID is 'oflife'. You have my utmost sympathy. Socialism, what's it good for huh?

  25. Kraisee

    Acorn had this tech in 1994

    Wait just a minute! This guy wasn't even close to being first in the UK.

    Nearly a decade earlier than the events in this story, Acorn Computers had already made their "NewsPad" device for the EU -- it had a colour touchscreen, mature OS with a large number of apps and all the features to make at least an iPad-class machine and a smaller phone version would have followed quite quickly.

    But exactly as with this story, we can thank Mr. Blair for typical UK government short-sightedness, when he personally sold-out the UK school computer market which was dominated at the time by Cambridge-based Acorn, to Bill Gates and his Micro$oft empire. I have always wondered who promised who, what, for the PM to sell-out a successful UK company like that.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Acorn had this tech in 1994

      True - but touch has been around for yonks. This is article is about multitouch and the user interface stuff connected to that.


  26. Matt Bradley

    What you need to understand about this article (although it is extremely well researched and well written), is that Andrew is determined to find examples of where the British government's approach to funding technology has failed.

    Clearly this is one such example. However, the question which SCREAMS out of every paragraph of this article is "why did the inventor not go to the private sector in the first place?"

    I guess we'll never know the answer to this question. What we do know is that a state funded technologist arrived at the same technology which was being explored by numerous different bodies at the same time, and that he ultimately failed to commercialise it.

    Was this the fault of a quango? Only part 2 of this article will reveal.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who really wrote this story ??

    So, published here on the 13th, "written" by Orlowski. An almost identically-worded story in the Mail Online - - published on the 14th, "written" by Nicholas Booth.

    So where did it originate ?? Neither article references the other, so either someone's guilty of plagiarism, or a 3rd party wrote it and flogged it round.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Who really wrote this story ??

      Ours was published first. Welcome to Fleet Street.


  28. Graham Barker

    Only the tip of the iceberg

    I used to be an external assessor for NESTA and can well believe every word of this report. Nor was this the only project badly handled (to put it mildly) by NESTA senior management, who were slothful, stupid, arrogant or greedy - and often all four.

  29. David Gale

    Plus ça change...

    Plus ça change... but they only got part of it... :)

  30. Sirius Lee

    We get what we deserve. The concept of innovation may be alive and kicking in our universities but not in our investors. Think Dragon's Den and then scale up. In Dragon's Den you have a collection of people, allegedly 'investors' who, so far as I can tell, want to screw the poor sods who turn up. There's no sense of engaging with inventors unless the investor can get be guaranteed unreasonable returns. That's not investing but it does look like the style of 'investing' that occurs in the UK.

    It's not surprising. In a country that needs a 'nesta' there is no support of innovation by investors unless the investors money is guaranteed by the state. In the US there is DARPA. But it supports truly futuristic ideas such as self-driving cars and supports it's projects over the long haul will $billions.

    But it's not a new problem. Think of the computer. Invented here then labelled 'top secret' handing the market to the US. Or the jet engine. Initially met with skepticism eventually it was embraced by...the state in the form of BOAC which rapidly pulled out when Comets started falling like their namesakes. Instead others learned from the BOAC experience and took the market. UK 'investors' were no where near. Then there's the 'rescue' of car industry by Moulton and friends. The failure to commercialize the encryption used by the UK spy agencies which was 're-invented' in the US by three researchers with the initials RSA and given the name 'public key cryptography' which is now the way all web encryption works.

    The list goes on. The bottom line is that UK investors do not. Not unless their return is guaranteed. And that's not investing.

  31. Neil Craig

    I have long campaigned for a well funded X-Prize Foundation run by successful engineers, scientists, accountants and venture capitalists not politicians and civil servants.

    To be fair such an organisation would not have directly funded this project in advance but if they had known that by achieving a target, short of commercial viability, the winning company would have won anything from hundreds of thousands to millions, real venture capitalists would have showered him with immediate offers of financial support.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Typo's include a missing "a" and a mangled "quantitative". More importantly, NESTA's Hba1c investment was called Quotient Diagnostics and was sold to EKF Diagnostics, not Cholestec/Inverness Medical. Sorry for any confusion.

  33. Hans 1

    NESTA ?

    Here I was thinking NESTA was all about sharing the huge profits of the national lootery among peers and MP's, now I hear they include their mates ? I cannot believe !

    Worse, they give the remaining peanuts to clowns and magicians ? Maybe because they think that these have a very similar job to theirs - lies and a lot of bullshit.

  34. attoman

    Britain and Apple Co-Equals? The Queen vs King Stevie?

    Britain has never invented anything, anymore then the US or even California.

    Inventions are the product of people known as inventors from 1 to 4 people (any more and its just a B.S. which can and does invalidate some patents because you can't list a non-inventor regardless if his name is Jobs on any US patent).

    The inventors can assign their patent rights to any entity including Britain or Apple.

    As far as inventors go some very great inventors originated in Britain.

  35. attoman

    Britain could not have invented the iPhone anymore then Apple did.

    The iPhone is a product using thousands of inventions none of which in any basic way were created by Apple. Apple married these things into an exceedingly delicious dish which is and will remain for 2.6 more years a leading product in its class.

    The iPhone is no more an invention then an appealing update to an operating system is an invention. It does qualify for a styling patent also known as a design patent but nothing more.

    For most of us who found our inventions in the iPhone series it was a delight that the technology had a life after the patent expired.

  36. attoman

    It's all been done before- in fact in 1976

    The general rigid touch screen with speed detection and multi-touch capability was invented in 1976. We invented and developed it and later used the speed detection on the select button based Felix pointer.

    This device series corresponded to the contract description:

    "The contract describes the development of “an innovative touchscreen technology”, specifically a touchscreen that can detect the speed at which one's fingertip moves across the display and can "capture multiple impacts across a surface area" – multitouch, in other words."

    Hearing how difficult it was to reinvent in 2004 is rather sad and suggests that the Fentem and others intensionally avoided looking to see past inventions.

    By the way a pair of prototypes running a Pong Game were shown to the Steve's at the Apple storefront in 1977 along with an early GUI and Jobs said their customers would prefer joysticks, Jobs didn't get the GUI at all.


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