Greatest innovations Top 10 greatest innovations that changed the world

Greatest innovations

The greatest innovations that changed the world

Greatest innovations – Introduction


Greatest innovations

Greatest innovations


The origins of patents are not clear. Several different countries lay claim to having the first patent system.  According to the intellectual property office website – (the IPO Website) – Britain has the longest continuous patent tradition in the world. This assertion refers to the Crown’s practice of granting privileges to subjects in return for carrying out some corresponding duty. These grants were made in letters patents, which had no checks or balances, they were simply bestowed within the power of the Crown. The IPO website refers to the grants by Henry VI to John of Utynam in 1449:


Henry VI granted the earliest known English patent for invention to Flemish-born John of Utynam in 1449. The patent gave John a 20-year monopoly for a method of making stained glass, required for the windows of Eton College that had not been previously known in England.


There were other noteworthy reported cases regarding these early UK patents including Dracy V Allin (1602) 11 Co rep 84b; 74 ER 1131 – involving a patent granted over the selling of playing cards; and The Clothworkers of Ipswich case (1614) Godb R 252; 78 ER 14 – which finally challenged the Crown’s right to grant such privileges, leading to the 1624 Statute of Monopolies.


Source: Intellectual Property Law Third Edition by Lionel Bently Brad Sherman.


According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica the first industrial patent was granted in Florence to Filippo Brunelleschi in 1421 (which precedes John of Utynam) for  the manufacture of a barge with hoisting gear used to transport marble.



A History of Modern Patent Law Hardcover – December 30, 2010 by Alain Pottage and  Brad Sherman.


This article is about extraordinary innovations. Innovation in this article is used to describe either a single invention or a series of related developments that created a better and more efficient way of life than had hitherto existed.


Although, the patent system ensures, relatively rigorously, that inventions are not ordinary, it does not necessarily ensure that inventions are extraordinary.


Source:  Intellectual Property Law Third Edition by Lionel Bently Brad Sherman.


Generally, for an invention to be patentable, it must consist of patentable subject matter, be new, involve an inventive step and comply with the internal requirements of patentability. Crucially, inter alia, there must be an “inventive step” for patentability. In other words the invention must be non obvious to a person skilled in the art. This is a crucial qualification given that all inventions can be said to be incremental.


To make our list, however, non-obviousness is not enough, each  innovation created a brand new market by creating demand that never existed before it. The innovations on our list are real breakthroughs. They are revolutionary in that they were so novel and ingenious that they completely transformed the time. Obviously the list is subject to some degree of subjective perception. There have been so many meritorious innovations. Many innovations did not make the list even though they are excellent examples of mankind’s creativity like the automobile, human flight, sound, phonograph, picture and photography to name but a few.


Our list would be:

1. Agriculture – What is known as the “Neolithic Revolution” started around 12,000 years ago. Agriculture began a complete transformational change in society and the way in which humans lived their lives forever. Permanent settlements with access to food supply took over from the hunter gather lifestyle. A stable supply of food meant cities evolved and populations grew. Markets were created to meet the demand and, as the result, the global population has grown exponentially to more than seven billion people today.


Benefits – villages, population density, food.




2. Writing – According to various sources, writing as we know it today dates back to the Sumerians in 3,000 BC.


Benefits – Writing ushered in record keeping, history, documents, communication, trade and the written contract.


Source: What the past did for us? A brief history of ancient inventions by Adam Hart Davies.


3. Steam engine – Steam has been a known source of power for more than 2000 years. The Egyptians used steam to rotate a sphere during the first century BC. One of the first practical attempts to harness the power of steam was made by Thomas Savery, who was granted a patent in 1698 for “raising water by fire“. In the 18th century steam was used to successfully pump water from flooded mines. James Watt, a Scottish engineer, figured out a new kind of steam engine which was more economical in its use than coal called the Boulton & Watt engines. It operated on a separate condenser system which was patented by Watt and Boulton in 1775 valid until 1800; invented by Richard Trevithick, the first excursion of a full-scale steam locomotive took place in the Cornish mining town of Camborne in 1801.


Benefits: The invention of the steam engine was one of the cornerstones of the so called “Industrial Revolution” which transformed the time and created the modern world.


Sources: Classic British Steam Locomotives by Peter Herring.

The Industrial Revolutionaries – The Creators of the Modern World 1776-1914 by Gavin Weightman.


4. Fleming’s penicillin – Alexander Fleming, a Scotsman, in 1929 discovered penicillin. Howard Florey, E Chain, N Heatley, a team of Oxford scientists, were the first to discover the significance of the effect of penicillin.


Benefits: Antibiotics the first powerful drug to treat a host of, until then, life threatening diseases. Antibiotics also created brand new global markets.


Source: A story of medicine from bloodletting to biotechnology by M Dobson.


Patented Pharmaceuticals

Patented Pharmaceuticals


5. Morton’s ether inhaler (Letheon) as an anaesthesia – Physicians of the 18th and 19th century relied on laughing gas, alcohol, opium and various other narcotics for sedating patients during surgery. William Morton in 1846 started experimenting with Letheon, which was named anaesthesia by Wendell Holmes from Harvard Medical School.


Benefits: After centuries of excruciatingly painful surgery this invention was a major medical milestone in performing surgery. Chloroform followed closely afterwards in 1847.


Source: A story of medicine from bloodletting to biotechnology by M Dobson.


6. Electric power – Alessandro Volta – an Italian physicist and chemist is credited with inventing the first electrical battery in 1800. It is from Volta’s discovery of the electric potential of the Volt (which bears his name) that Edison and Tesla  later benefited.

Electricity proved a powerful immensely versatile technology, providing new forms of lightening, powering electromagnets, the electric telegraph and the telephone, running electric motors to provide power for transport and industry and ultimately giving rise to electronics to create the so called “Communications Revolution“.


Source: Who invented what when by David Ellyard.


7. X rays – Wilhelm Rontgen born 1845 – in 1895, German Wilhelm Rontgen, discovered X-rays. They were called Rontgen Rays. Rontgen was the first Nobel prize winner for physics. Although Rontgen cannot be said to have invented X-rays they had always existed but he was the first to demonstrate how they might be used.


Benefits: X-rays are of almost incomparable value to medicine and surgery, engineering and industry to this day and into the foreseeable future.


Source: Who invented what when by David Ellyard.


8. In Vitro fertilization – Gregory Pincus, Born in 1903 to Russian Jewish immigrants in the United States, Gregory Pincus achieved in-vitro fertilization of rabbits in 1934.


Benefits: Revolutionised fertility, also means the potential to test for genetic abnormalities in the eggs.


Source: A story of medicine from bloodletting to biotechnology by M Dobson.

Is innovation bought at the cost of access?

In Vitro fertilization


9. Atomic Bomb – Robert Oppenheimer, the immense power of the atom had been recognised since the early 20th century, iconically captured in Einstein’s famous formulation E=mc2. Ernest Rutherford carried out important earlier work on the structure of the atom. The research project on the atom was renamed the Manhattan District Project in 1942. Oppenheimer, an American theoretical physicist, is widely credited as playing a pivotal part in finally inventing the atomic bomb. The first atomic bomb was detonated 16 July 1945 in New Mexico.


Significance: Changed the course of subsequent history, emphatically ended the second world war, ushered in a nuclear age, cold war and continuing threat of global nuclear devastation.


Source: 50 weapons that changed the course of history by Joel Levy.


10. Computers and the Internet – founded what we know as the so called “Information Revolution“.


Computers: The grandfather of the modern computer was the 19th century, Englishman, Charles Babbage. He came up with the idea of entrusting all algorithms, arithmetic works to a machine and then in 1821 he designed the first Babbage engine the “Difference Engine“. The second Babbage engine was the “Analytical Engine” which employed much of the thinking in the modern PC such as memory and a central processor. None of the other numerous attempts after Babbage to build a computer were successful. In 1946, Americans Presper Eckert and John Mauchly built ENIAC (Electronic, Numerical, Integrator And Computer), the first fully electronic digital computer, without a memory. Its purpose was military. The sticking point was the vacum tube (valve) technology on which it was built. The valve’s burnt out at an average of seven minutes. Again there were numerous attempts to build computers based on valve technology notably by the Englishman Alan Turing, Konrad Zuse, a German Inventor, Maurice Wilkes at Cambridge University and Jon Von Neuman at Princeton.


The real breakthrough came at the beginning of the 1950s when computers said goodbye to valve technology and switched to the new technology of semiconductors. These computers were known as the second generation. By late 1970s computers were being found beyond factories, military centres and offices. They were becoming household products. In the 1980s consumers were buying Sinclair ZX Spectrum or a BBC Micro, these computers still had tiny memory compared to computers today.


Internet: the network originally in the 1960s as military and academic tool under the auspices of the Advance Research Policy Agency Network (ARPANET). It is a common misunderstanding that worldwide web is the Internet. The Internet is based on three key technologies: first, packet switching; second, client server technology, and third, a set of software protocols known as transmission control (TCP) and Internet protocol (IP). Protocols are sets of specifications that allow computers to exchange information regardless of their make, type or operating system. Any computer that can recognise the TCP/IP set of protocols is known as “Internet enabled”. One of the facilities available over the Internet is the Web. The Web is the most popular facility as it encompasses most of the IPs. Tim Berners Lee, an English computer scientist and Robert Cailliau a Belgian engineer are credited with creating the Web in 1989. They are known to have successfully initiated the first successful communication between an HTTP client and server via the Internet.


Greatest innovations Benefits: Computers and the Internet have undoubtedly transformed our time and are responsible for the so called “Information Age“. They have revolutionised information access, analysis, storage, communication and globalization, to name but a few of their significant effects. There is however a sinister side to the Internet, including: criminal activity such as cyber-terrorism, fraud and anti-social behaviour (including inciting race and religious hatred, stalking, vilification and bullying).


Sources: Electronic Technology, Corporate Strategy, and World Transformation by Maurice Estabrooks; James May’s 20th Century by James May and Phil Dolling; A Practical Guide to Business Law & the Internet by Peter Adediran; Virtually Criminal – Crime, deviance and regulation online by Matthew Williams.


Greatest innovations – Conclusion

There is no doubt that there have been more technological advancements made in the last 250 years than in the previous 12,000 years. No one could seriously argue against the assertion that the pace of technological change in the last 30 years has out stripped any we have seen in history. In-fact, if you extrapolate that the existing technological trends will continue, that pace of change will only continue into the future and then accelerate faster, then we couldn’t even imagine what life will be like a century from now.

Internet Slander 



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