Over the last year residents of Austin have patented inventions including a laser-guided nail clipper for dogs and cats, an electronic fishing reel system, a fertiliser that also functions as a pesticide, and a gadget that can detect explosive chemicals with microphones--along with about 2,900 other ideas, the second-most per-capita of any metro area in the US
Silicon Valley still dominates the US as a magnet for innovative companies and people. But in our first-ever ranking of America's Most Innovative Cities, the "Silicon Hills" of Austin were close on the Valley's heels.
For our ranking we started with the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the US and used data from the US Patent and Trademark Office to determine number of patents per capita. Then we combined it with venture capital investment per capita from the National Venture Capital Association, along with those cities' ratios of high-tech, science and "creative" jobs from ZoomProspector.com and Payscale.com.
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It's no surprise that Silicon Valley, specifically the city of San Jose and neighbours like Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Cupertino, ranked first in all four of those categories. Those cities are home to some of the world's largest tech companies, from Cisco to Google to Apple. But less expected were the runners-up on our list: Austin and neighbouring Round Rock, Texas, cities that produced an impressive average 1.7 patents for every thousand residents over the last 12 months.
Austin's culture of innovation may be boosted by well-known tech credentials like the South by Southwest (SXSW) Web startup and music festival held annually in March, as well as the nearby headquarters of hardware industry giants Dell and Freescale Semiconductor. But they also have two secret weapons in the innovation race: the University of Texas's Cockrell School of Engineering, and IBM's Austin research lab.
IBM produces more patents than any other company in the world, and for the last seven years Austin has produced more of those patents than any other IBM office. In total the lab produced 880 patents in 2009. That's just 30 less than all of Cisco, and 300 more than Sun Microsystems, Boeing, AT&T or Toyota. Six of IBM's 25 top inventors live in Austin, including one with more patents to his name than any other IBMer, a chip-focused engineer named Ravi Arimilli. "For IBM, Austin has evolved into a real hotbed of innovation," says Tony Befi, the company's site manager.
Image: Austin, Texas
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