Prime minister Gordon Brown has said new technology ideas will make Britain "the innovation nation" of the future.

Speaking at the NESTA Innovation Edge Conference in London, the prime minister told an audience of IT developers, scientists, entrepreneurs and academics: "What you are doing is absolutely critical for the economy.

"I want to break down every barrier to innovation, whether it is our policy or our attitudes to regulation," he said.

Brown pledged that if any ideas from the conference suggested the government needed to do things differently, "then we will".

But Sir John Chisholm, chairman at defence technology firm Qinetiq, quickly followed Gordon Brown's speech by saying the UK still lacked a climate that encourages technology innovation, unlike the US.

"The US is not short of finding early adopters of innovation," he said. In the UK, he argued, there was less willingness in the public sector to take risks with new ideas, because "ministers have to be protected".

"We need more competition and rewards for successful research [at universities]," added Lord Sainsbury, former minister for science and innovation. He said, however, that the government was listening more to those researchers as well as industry experts, improving its attitudes to innovation.

David Willetts MP, shadow secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills, said the government promoted innovation much more than it had in the past. "We mustn't be too pessimistic. The key is we need to recognise you are trying to buy a service, not a function, and to make sure the ideas will work for that service."

This week the Home Office gave the gave the go-ahead to a specialist police e-crime unit which will comprise of online experts, and is expected to work with industry partners to find innovative ways of tracking and fighting crime on the web.

It is also examining ways to track communications data, including establishing a central database of all emails and phone calls made in the UK. But this has already attracted a high level of concern in the IT industry over security and privacy.

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