Technological breakthroughs are contagious: They break out in specific areas, then spread. To identify the most innovative cities of the 21st century, we compiled U.S. Patent and Trademark Office data on utility patents (for a new invention or process) issued between 2000 and 2011--and analyzed which metropolitan areas were the national leaders in each patent category.

We found several hubs of industry fueling new ideas. These innovation clusters create an "ecosystem effect," says Steven Pedigo, a director at the Creative Class Group, an advisory group founded by urban theorist Richard Florida. "It's a concentration of assets," Pedigo says. "Companies have everything they need to be successful: talent, capital, other firms." And there's nothing like a little competition to make you more resourceful.


No. 1 in these classes: Internal-combustion engines; land-vehicle bodies and tops; vehicle navigation.

Still Humming: The Motor City is running strong as far as patents go. Detroit is 10th in the nation, with more than 25,000 patents issued between 2000 and 2011.

Auto Shop: It also leads the country in 38 different patent classes, the majority of them involving cars or car parts.

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