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Independent inventors accounted for approximately half of all patents in Britain and Japan by 1930, despite the rise of the corporate economy and the spread of industrial R&D. A mixture of patent renewal and historical citations data reveals that the quality of independent invention was high. Active markets for inventions created incentives for independents, especially in large cities like London and Tokyo, which dominated spatially. Alongside evidence for the US, the findings show that in countries with different patent systems and at varying stages of economic development, a key component of overall inventive activity originated from outside the boundaries of firms.