Innovation v. Invention

Let’s begin by understanding ‘Invention’.

Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Invention’ as “Something, typically a process or device that has been invented”. Further, ‘Invent’ is defined as “Create or design (something that has not existed before)”

Therefore simply put, ‘Invention’ is the creation of something, typically a process or device, which has not existed before. Technically speaking, an Invention has the following qualities

  • Is novel; something that did not exist before.
  • Is inventive; not an obvious improvement.
  • Is functional; has an application.

Consequently, any process or device which satisfied the above list qualifies as being an Invention.

Invention v. Innovation

As mentioned earlier, both Invention and Innovation are interchangeably used, wrongly so. Why should you care?

Definitions and meaning are important, and so is precision.

Interchangeable usage of words bearing distinct meanings frustrates the conversation and this is a malpractice best avoided if we are to make any meaningful progress in understanding Innovation, IPR, and its implications on start-ups and innovators.

Do not mistake my words for rants of a purist. Attributing multiple conflicting meanings to the same word creates a whole host of problems. Consistent loose usage of words over an extended period of time by a sufficiently large group of people legitimizes the usage. Ambiguity in language is bad and anyone who’s ever tried his hand at interpretation of statutes and/or contracts knows what I’m talking about.

And even if that doesn’t appeal to your sensibilities, perhaps this will. Why call a hamster, a rat when there is no excuse for not calling a hamster, a hamster?!

All Inventions are Innovations but not all Innovations are Inventions, and therein lies the difference.

The key distinction to be borne in mind is that while Innovation is a process of solving an unresolved problem (adding value); an Invention is a novel and inventive solution to the problem. 

Look at Apple for instance.

The company is acknowledged to be innovative. Their customer service, products, marketing, packaging and even their finance options/programs (iPhone Upgrade Program) are all innovative.

Each of the above adds value to their products in their own right, yet not each of them in an invention. A brilliant and innovative marketing campaign is not an invention. The concept of having a Genius Bar in each store may be very innovative and of great economic significance to the company or the customer, but isn’t an invention. A new mobile purchase plan, however ingenious and of great economic significance to the company (or customer) it may be, is not an invention.

 Innovation begins when the problem solver identifies a problem worth solving and applies his mind towards working out a solution. Innovation then takes either the form of ‘Jugaad’ or ‘Systematic Innovation’ in reaching the optimum solution. The process that is Innovation ends with the optimum solution being given a form, either as a device or a process.

 If said optimum solution satisfies the requisite qualities of being an ‘Invention’, namely novelty, inventiveness and usefulness, the solution is classified as an ‘Invention’, else the optimum solution may simply be called an innovative solution.