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Sweden encourages innovation. With a high number of patents per capita, Sweden is in the world’s top 20. And did you know that 20 of the elements in the periodic table were discovered in Sweden? Swedish creative thinking has resulted in some life-changing innovations spread around the world.

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Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Life-changing and life-saving innovations

The cardiac pacemaker has been implanted in more than 3.5 million people. The three-point auto seat belt is claimed to save a life every six minutes, and has been doing so for more than 50 years. Both are Swedish inventions, part of a long list of innovations born in this country that have made the lives of their users longer, better or just more convenient: the zipper, safety matches, dynamite, nicotine gum, drinks cartons, ball bearings, the adjustable wrench, the rear-facing child safety seat (image), the artificial kidney and Bluetooth are just a few of the others.

This national knack for creative thinking has helped make Sweden one of Europe’s and the world’s most innovative nations, according to numerous surveys. Many Swedish (or half-Swedish) companies have grown wealthy off this innovativeness, including Volvo, Ericsson, ABB, Tetra Pak and AstraZeneca, while Skype (free phone calls over the internet) and Spotify (music streaming) belong to the next generation of Swedish technological successes.

Less high-tech, but with immense potential to improve billions of lives in developing countries, is the Peepoo, a Swedish-designed personal single-use toilet that stops human waste from contaminating the immediate area and the wider environment.

Public investment and the Nobel Prize

Sweden invests about 3 per cent of its GDP in research, one of the highest rates in the world. The Swedish government itself invests heavily in research and development, and there are several government agencies that fund and coordinate research. Their efforts are currently focused on medicine and bioscience, technology and the climate.

Sweden is also associated around the world with innovation in another way. The famous Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel – who, among other things, invented dynamite – used his fortune to encourage and reward innovators from around the world. The Nobel Prizes, presented each year in Stockholm by the Swedish king, recognise important breakthroughs in medicine, physics and chemistry, and are regarded as the most prestigious awards in the world of science.

Last updated: 25 March 2014