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Letter: The myth behind British invention

Sir: Peter Popham's article ("It's all make-believe", 18 February) raises important questions. British engineering, design and manufacture has been in relative decline for a century and a half and for much of that time we have applauded invention. We associate the great engineers with invention: Watt with the separate condenser, Stephenson with the steam locomotive, Parsons with the turbine, Whittle with the gas turbine. Somehow the myth has been generated that the British are especially inventive; then it is believed that the British engineer invents world-beating products but only foreign companies profit by them.

This self-delusion would be no more than a charming example of chauvinism, were it not associated with a complete misunderstanding of what design is all about. Design is not merely invention, it is getting a useful product right. More important than invention is the disciplined decision-making needed to solve the thousands of problems that arise between the conception of the design brief and the delivery to the customer of a product which is profitable to own and profitable to make.