back to article True fact: Britain is losing its brains

Britain has a brain drain problem: it's one of the two countries whose inventors are keenest to leave home, according to a study for WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The UK and Germany both have a net loss of inventors - despite benefiting from significant immigration of inventor talent from other countries …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'll be the first to admit I have not read the report, but am pondering if the brain drain is a permanent one; for example a skilled worker from country X may go work for 6 years in the US on an H or L visa, only to return to their native country once the visa term is up. Unless they marry a septic and stay in the US. As I didn't, but I digress.

    1. Don Jefe

      The study uses the inventors country of habitation and country of origin based on information in patent applications (required in most countries patent applications) so where they go afterward isn't factored in (as near as I can tell) only the fact that they were mobile when the application was filed.

    2. Mexflyboy

      What a Cupid stunt...

      Please desist from calling me a septic, you Berkshire!

      -the British Mexican-American

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "But the study also has implications for education policy here in the West. Why educate people in science and technology if other countries are going to reap the reward?"

    Take look at who are taking those courses at some of the biggest Uni's and you'll find the vast majority are not of British origin.

    1. JohnG

      "But the study also has implications for education policy here in the West. Why educate people in science and technology if other countries are going to reap the reward?"

      This is a chicken and egg issue. Take a look at the salaries and career prospects for people in science and technology - that may explain why so many leave and why so many choose careers in other sectors. Any time people in these sectors look like reaching professional salaries, the government of the day will come up with a scheme to solve the shortage of skilled workers AKA import cheap labour.

  3. Tom 7

    Hawaii sounds good

    They say genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. An Hawaiian hammock would cover the first part.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hawaii sounds good

      Eh, if the perspiration part was so hard to facilitate, Death Valley would be eclipsing Silicon Valley :)

    2. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

      Re: Hawaii sounds good

      Well no I think not, Its an Edison quote, HIS method of discovery really was try 231 different ways seemingly at random to create something, read up on his attempts to create a light bulb filament and his search for a better storage battery for electric vehicles. Not to mention his Jobs like thirst for claiming his employees developments as his alone etc.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hawaii sounds good

        Yes, the quote was from Thomas Alva Edison. I was just joking about the utility of weather-derived perspiration applied to the Edison formula.

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: Hawaii sounds good

          Thomas Edison was an epic dick and the original patent troll. He pioneered the same hyper-aggressive IP enforcement/extortion schemes still used today. So instead of a lightbulb or a stock ticker, he should be remembered as the grandfather of Prenda law and the RIAA.

          But trying 231 different things is still often more effective than trying to plan or model the best solution. I like 'push the big red button and see what happens' form of discovery. It has worked well for me, and Edison too (except he had a lackey push the button).

          1. Dinky Carter

            Re: Hawaii sounds good

            >Thomas Edison was an epic dick and the original patent troll

            Plus he electrocuted an elephant


            What an arsehole.

  4. John Styles

    To me this fails basic plausiblity

    "13.11 per cent of its emigration comprising inventors"

    Oh come off it.

    In what sense can this plausibly be true?

    Anecdote is not data but to me I would say the main human exports of this country are

    i) retired people

    ii) TEFL teachers

    iii) software developers (though this is obviously most prey to selection effect), I suppose they count as inventors if every line of code counts as being lovingly invented.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Just because inventors leave Britain doesnt mean Britain doesnt benefit

    True, you'd rather they stay in Britain and provide lots of new jobs and wealth through better mousetrap production. However, if they move abroad and build their mousetraps, the Queens loyal subjects still benefit through trade and a higher standard of living.

    Hey, jugglers and barristas need mousetraps too!

    (If it makes you feel better, you guys can have Paris)

  6. i like crisps

    Maybe Iain Duck-egg Smith was right !!!

    In addition to Jugglers, Bell Ringers and Baristas don't forget

    'Shelf Stacker's'. Sod Cold Fusion just make sure the Kit Kats

    are displayed neatly.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    People clever enough to invent know what's coming.

    I've been considering Canada. I just want to be somewhere where my kids will survive the next ten years.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: People clever enough to invent know what's coming.

      Here too. I'm not convinced Canada is the right place long term, but it's far better than staying here.

  8. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    "True fact"

    I hope that title phrase was meant to be ironic!

  9. Don Jefe

    Brain Drain -Science vs Commercialization

    The report is interesting, but obviously not exciting to read. While a certain percentage of 'inventors' are leaving the UK, they've got lots coming in from other countries. It isn't like everyone innovative or creative is abandoning the UK, it's a top destination spot.

    What I did not like about the report is that it focuses primarily on direct commercialization (through patent application) but glosses over the fact that those in pure science have a considerably lower rate of emigration. The fundamental research that others are basing patents on, is by and large, done by natives of a given country (based on Nobel awards).

    I think this report is positioned incorrectly. Instead of focusing on a side effect of a broken US patent system and identifying those who excel at gaming the system, it could have looked deeper into the quantity of published research papers by natives vs immigrants of a given country and what's happening with that research.

    Overall the report highlights failures in US policy that are affecting the entire planet, not policy issues in other developed countries.

  10. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    How do they know I emigrated?

    I am an inventor (at least I wrote a bunch of patents)

    I have worked abroad a number of times.

    I currently live abroad in the land above the land of the free

    But although I always have to fill in a lot of documentation for the place i'm going to - I don't remember ever telling the UK government I left.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Re: How do they know I emigrated?

      The GCHQ/NSA/et al are watching you. :) Well, you among hundreds of millions of others.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: How do they know I emigrated?

        Until recently patent applications at USPTO required you to disclose your country of origin if you weren't a US citizen. Maybe the USPTO reports back to your government or it could be included in one of the trade agreements, not really sure. But I do know the USPTO knows where patent filers are from.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: How do they know I emigrated?

          I assumed the report meant UK residents who had patents (and so were inventors) who had then left.

    2. Cardinal

      Re: How do they know I emigrated?

      "I currently live abroad in the land above the land of the free"

      That would be North Korea then....?

    3. Number6

      Re: How do they know I emigrated?

      As someone else from the UK and also in the land of the free at the moment, I don't think I've told the UK that I've left yet. I probably ought to, the Inland Revenue owes me some money. However, that's about the only incentive to let on, and I'm sure the taxman doesn't bother telling anyone outside the financial side of things. That would imply joined-up government.

  11. chris lively

    Hint to the UK:

    The right answer isn't to stop training smart people. The right answer is to create an environment that is conducive to launching new enterprises. There are too many issues with having an actual presence in the uk to bother listing. However a few that come to mind are difficulty in terminating employees and incredible tax costs. Heck, I'd leave too and there is no way I'd set up shop there.

    Address those then reap the benefits.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Employment in the UK is at-will for two full years and the corporate tax scheme is verging on Irish in terms of its generosity. If individual IT contractors can orchestrate a double-dutch sandwich for their tax affairs, any business complaining of arduous taxation is simply off its nut.

      What more do you want?

      The real "problem" with enterprise in the UK is that as soon as upstarts reach any considerable size, they're invariably sold off to a foreign bidder. There's little will, and arguably nationally we don't have the capacity, to get companies to graduate from being a top end SME to being a Proper Enterprise.

      You'll note I put problem in quotes. I don't consider this a problem. It doesn't really matter who owns the business - most big businesses pay naff all tax anyway - so what matters is the investment, stability and employment the business provides. Johnny Foreigner can provide that just as well as Disgusted, Royal Tunbridge Wells.

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      Corporate tax in the USA is actually higher than here, which is why Ireland, Luxembourg and Bermuda are very popular places to set up a company.

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        Not in Delaware it isn't.

        The big issue with tax in the USA is the bureaucracy - especially if you're employing people. Corporate rates are not that high, and certainly less than the UK's nominal 20-something percent.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "The big issue with tax in the USA is the bureaucracy - especially if you're employing people. Corporate rates are not that high, and certainly less than the UK's nominal 20-something percent."


          Try 30% - at least, if you're a small business. If you're big, you can incorporate in the Asshole Islands or wherever the fuck, and pay dick-all, but if you have a company doing a few million a year, every year you can kiss 30% of your cash goodbye.

          You know, because small businesses don't ever need cash cushions for operating expenses or to keep staff on, or anything like that. Noooo.

          The end result is that every year you have to frantically try to get rid of all your damn money somehow - naturally, your options are limited by not having a ton of it - and start the next year running the ragged edge of insolvency.

          Meanwhile, Apple and Google make as much every few seconds as we gross in a year, and pay barely a nickel on any of it.

          I don't necessarily begrudge *them* - the system is set up the way it is, and their shareholders would take a dim view of their voluntarily throwing a few billion a year back at Uncle Sam just because it's a jolly good thing to do - but Christ, does it ever piss me off that the only people in my corner when it comes to corporate tax rates are people that I couldn't ever support for office because they're raging, unconscionable cockchuggers in pretty much every other way.


        2. jonathanb Silver badge

          "The corporate tax rate is 40%. The marginal federal corporate income tax rate on the highest income bracket of corporations (currently USD 18,333,333 and above) is 35%. State and local governments may also impose income taxes ranging from 0% to 12%, the top marginal rates averaging approximately 7.5%. A corporation may deduct its state and local income tax expense when computing its federal taxable income, generally resulting in a net effective rate of approximately 40%. The effective rate may vary significantly depending on the locality in which a corporation conducts business. The United States also has a parallel alternative minimum tax (AMT) system, which is generally characterized by a lower tax rate (20%) but a broader tax base."

          So, 40% up to $18,333,333; 35% on anything above that. State income tax is extra, and can be claimed as an expense against your Federal tax bill. In Delaware, the State income tax is zero, and that is where 90% of larger US businesses are based.

          The expenses you can claim against your income are more generous than in the UK, so you will be paying 40% or 35% of a smaller number, however, you will most of the time pay more tax in the US than in the UK.

    3. Don Jefe

      Although the effects can be obnoxious and overbearing, and lots of good ideas get left out to die, the US has a sales and marketing culture and infrastructure that simply doesn't exist anywhere else.

      A good idea or a great product is worth exactly zero if it isn't sold well. Tax structures can be managed and supply chains can be assembled anywhere, but you've got to have a sales centric environment to get people to give you their money. There's no such thing as a product that sells itself: Even feminine hygiene products have sales people and nearly half the planet uses that stuff.

      There are shed loads of great ideas, great designs and great people in Europe (and the UK for you sepretatists) but there's a great gaping hole in sales capabilities. The people who invent are rarely the people who can sell, and coming to the US gives those people an opportunity to get their inventions sold. I believe it is largely a cultural thing and Europeans (and Canadians) simply have better manners, but getting your products up in people's faces is highly effective. There's no better place in the world to find people who will ram things down people's throats than here in the US.

  12. Curly4

    I will say this no nation will have a brain drain if (and don't miss the IF) the country that they are in provides a good economic climate so that their work will pay off financially as well as a successful product.

  13. phil dude

    mod up....

    mod up @chris lively... spot on.

    As one of those inventors finishing my PhD studies at a UK university where I have created something of patentable value, and guess where I am currently sitting to exploit it...?

    The UK is a nightmare, although I have heard France and Italy are worse.

    If the US sorts out the healthcare débâcle, they might be onto a new wave of entrepreneurial expansion since benefits will not be tied to jobs...


  14. Arachnoid

    Talking of Brain drains

    Just how many of The Registers reporters actually reside in their country of origin?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Talking of Brain drains

      Considering just the staff reporters and editors... TTBOMK the UK office has 13 editorial staff, all Brits except two. US office has 6 staff, three of which are American. Oz has two Australians and there's two Brits in Spain.

      So that's 16 out of 23. But I could be wrong because I (as non-HR) don't know for certain people's country of origin. So I'm just guessing. Plus we have plenty of freelancers who are mostly UK based and are probably British. So I don't know why I posted...


      1. Number6

        Re: Talking of Brain drains

        Having no idea of the accuracy of what you're saying generally doesn't stop people posting on the internet, so you're in good company.

  15. Herby

    All of this begs the question:

    Do you want fries with that?

    As for Death Valley, there isn't much humidity there, so the perspiration evaporates quite quickly. Yes, Hawaii is very nice. Costly, but nice.

  16. Christian Berger

    Patents have little to do with innovation

    Many huge discoveries shaping the face of the earth of the next decades never got patented while even trivial things get patented.

    So people who have patents assigned to their names are not necessarily the people who are the ones who are particularly intelligent or creative. There may be some overlap, but there's no identity.

    1. Number6

      Re: Patents have little to do with innovation

      Patents were originally intended to encourage innovation by rewarding the inventor with a relatively short-term monopoly in return for letting the world have the details of his idea.

      Now, patents are used to stifle innovation, lest it rob large corporations, who are the only ones who can afford legal fees to defend patents, of their profit.

  17. John 156

    The UK has the highest proportion of invention taking place in Universities as opposed to in Corporates. Cambridge University has a wacking 30% foreign inventors. Conclusions a) UK is poorly endowed with scientifically based corporates because of the destruction of the mechanical engineering industry by Trade Union bosses by striking it into oblivion and the destruction of the electrical engineering industry by Lord Weistock of GEC by taking over most of it and never investing in R & D unless paid for by Ministry of Defence and then merging most of it with mainly German businesses and b) scientific education at the secondary level is crap as a result of dumbing down of exams and the educational focus on cretins rather than academically gifted students and c) the City attracts the scientifically able to make money for the banksters instead of creating real added value through patentable invention. Upshot: main inventive corporates are big pharma which were left alone by Trade Union bosses and Lord Weinstock and the City is responsible for significant brain drain toward socially useless activity. Educational outlook poor unless selective education is available at taxpayer funded schools so universities will continue to attract a disproportionately large proportion of properly educated foreigners.

    1. Don Jefe

      I think you've massively oversimplified a lot of things... Nothing is ever that straightforward. But you have identified a major problem with universities in the West.

      Educational institutions changed their goals years ago. Creating the next generation of scholars and contemplative leaders has given way to making money by processing students and patent licensing. Undergraduate programs are too specific and core lessons are never taught. The UK is somewhat better in teaching math than the US, but otherwise their students are the same uneducated numpties, just the accents are different.

      It used to be that you could sit down with any undergraduate and discuss anything from classic literature and art to calculus and chemistry. Now they don't even know their multiplication tables or basic long division and also don't know the classics. The idea of teaching 'applicable' skills only succeeds in turning out drones who can't learn, only do what they're told. They're so ignorant of the past they believe every idea they have is earth-shatteringly new and deserves your attention but if they had even a basic education they would see that its been done before. They're rehashing history instead of building on it.

      Ugh, it's very frustrating when Asian and African students are more well versed in US and European history than Americans or Europeans. If you want to train kids in workplace skills put them in the workforce. If you want them to be thinkers and high-level problem solvers send them to University. Don't, however, force your general workforce through university to improve some stupid metric. Doing so lessens their impact in the workplace and cheapens the education of university attendees because the bar has been lowered to meet the needs of the non-university oriented. Everybody gets screwed and that simply isn't right.

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