Can Google and Facebook Keep U.S. Ahead in Global Tech Race?

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So far, no one outside the United States has built a global social network, created an operating system adopted at an astonishing rate by smartphone and tablet manufacturers, created the best search engine in the world or been at the vanguard of genomic science. For several reasons, that is not likely to change. America will remain the intellectual property center of the globe, likely for decades.

There are several reasons. The first is simple inventiveness. Whether this is the by-product of the vast university system, federal government R&D or something in the DNA of American academics and entrepreneurs is hard to say. Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) was the product of university-based work. So were the inventions of more ancient technology like the PC chips that drove the rise of Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) and the subsequent rise of Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM), a company that has become Intel’s greatest nemesis.

Google’s Android roiled the mobile operating system (OS) market in a way that could never have been predicted. It stole the market from Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) OS and older products like Symbian and the one invented for BlackBerry Ltd. (NASDAQ: BBRY) at a pace that even Moore’s Law could not anticipated. In Android’s case, how American is it to fundamentally open source something as precious as an operating system, and to do so in a fashion that essentially made it free to hardware and software developers? Impossible to say. But Google’s habit of offering technology for free has changed more than one market, and not just in the United States.

Social networking took a different path altogether, but it does share some foundations with Android. The huge system of users created by Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) was based on adoption of a product that was free to them, run on the back of complex cloud computing and at the risk of never identifying a revenue model. Perhaps that was why its user base rushed to more than a billion. Or perhaps Facebook caught a tide not visible to social scientists or demographers. That will be debated for decades, along with the basis for the rise of all of Web 2.0.

Probably the greatest technology advance of the next 10 years will be the rise of genomic research and its practical application to human development and disease. The movement to do this many be global, but a disproportionate portion resides in the United States.

It is not as though Germany, China or Japan would not like to “own” the world’s primary technology intellectual properties. China has tried to build home-grown models of everything from operating systems to video compression. None has worked, along with any related efforts in other basic tech. Japan and Germany have benefited from U.S. inventions, but neither has become a huge center of invention on its own.

It often has been pointed out that manufacturing has moved offshore and will not return to the United States. An observation is that tech’s cradle in the U.S. has as well. However, what has become evident more recently is that the cutting edge of such things has not moved an inch outside of America.