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Developing countries need more home-grown inventors who are committed to tackling poverty through the application of new technologies.

This is the main conclusion to emerge from a report released this week by a programme at the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology backed by the Lemelson Foundation, a body set up by the family of successful US inventor Jerome Lemelson.

The report recommends several steps to remove barriers to innovation and encourage the work of 'social entrepreneurs'. These include reforming education to boost creativity; investing in local invention and innovation; providing technical and financial support to inventors; exploring new models of intellectual property protection that stimulate creativity and encourage knowledge sharing; and assisting with human rights, freedom of speech and justice to create an environment conducive to creativity.

"To date, the fruits of human ingenuity have bypassed some three billion people — the world's poorest," says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, executive director of Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) International and one of the authors of the report, called INVENTION: Enhancing inventiveness for quality of life, competitiveness and sustainability.

"Even the advances in standards of living that invention has provided for some have caused irreversible harm to the global environment. We need to focus on developing sustainable solutions to alleviate current problems and create future benefits for a global society."

The report is the result of a year-long study by a 56-member panel of experts. It states that several factors, including inadequate funding, outdated school syllabuses, poor professional networks, and a lack of role models are hampering innovation in developing countries. Intellectual property protection is also a barrier, as patents are expensive to apply for and may impede the sharing of information on sustainable development.

New technologies should be developed with potential environmental and social impacts in mind — and should not just be adopted according to market requirements, the report urges. It cites the internal combustion engine and the green revolution as major innovative advances that have had considerable human and environmental costs associated with them.

Implementing socially and environmentally sound technologies could allow developing countries to 'leap frog' inappropriate or outdated technologies, instead inventing and adopting more sustainable solutions, it says.

Link to the full report INVENTION: Enhancing inventiveness for quality of life, competitiveness and sustainability