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The French Disconnection: Inventions That Went Nowhere

June 10 (Bloomberg) -- Bloomberg News' Marie Mawad looks at France's innovations that turned into missed business opportunities throughout history and looks at how the country can take advantage of entrepreneurship to spur growth. She speaks on Bloomberg Television's "Countdown." (Source: Bloomberg)

There's Silicon Valley, and then there's "death valley."

That's how France's czar of competitiveness, Louis Gallois, describes his country's repeated failure to cash in on its innovations. As I wrote in Businessweek recently, Gallois is doing what he can to prevent his nation from flubbing future inventions.

Here are just a few of the missed opportunities and French what-might-have-beens:

The Micral

In 1973, Frenchman Francois Gernelle built the world’s first microprocessor-powered micro-computer. R2E, where he worked, was taken over by Groupe Bull, which relegated the machine to niche markets like toll booths. In the decades after, France looked on as IBM and Apple spawned a multi-trillion dollar industry around the innovation.

The Minitel

Before the Internet, the Minitel offered information and messaging services on the screens of a network of connected devices. For former state-monopoly France Telecom, the Minitel brought in a steady revenue stream for years, before it was made obsolete by the World Wide Web. The Internet has a habit of doing that.


Frenchman Francois Mizzi in the 1980s filed patents for touchscreen technology. He had the idea for an iPhone-like device, perhaps a few decades too soon. So much for Le App Store.

Lip Watch

French company Lip invented the first electronic, battery-powered watch. Unveiled in 1952, the Lip watch was famously worn by Charles de Gaulle. Since then, the company has undergone multiple restructuring plans and has been dwarfed by the likes of Casio and Timex.

Jukebox Music Player

One of the pioneers in digital music was Paris-based Archos, which had a portable MP3 player called the Jukebox 6000 that had hard-disk storage. Even though it came out before Apple's iPod, the device couldn’t compete with the volume of consumers wearing white earbuds.

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