Which Comes First: Invention or Innovation?

Does one attempt innovation, and then one invents something?  Or, does one invent something and innovation on the invention occurs subsequently?  Both perhaps? Surely this question has been discussed in your network of creative professionals at some point in your career.

As founder of the Society of Concurrent Product Development [SCPD], this discussion occurred many times in our collaborative sessions over the years. Opinions were strong and debate was heated.  I have since retired from SCPD’s Board, but the discussion increasingly crosses my path as the importance of intellectual property continues to grow in our society.

The subject has become additionally blurred by the ability to “manufacture patents,” practically at a moment’s notice, these days.  A patent used to define an invention. Today, many patents are the result of a few hours of brainstorming sessions to put protection around a base or primary patent. Little is invented, but much is innovated, in these brainstorming sessions that result in additional bonifed patents.  Corporations, not just patent trolls, are increasingly adopting the practice.  The nuances of these “paper patents” are beyond one’s ability to succinctly capture in a short article.  But, they illustrate the increasing difficulty in our society to discern invention from innovation.

From an R&D or Product Development perspective, versus an intellectual property or legal perspective, the discussion is perhaps a bit easier to codify in a brief article.

Which Comes First: Invention or Innovation? [Machine Design – November 11, 2014] discusses three different product development scenarios that are experienced every day in corporations.  Is the product New-To-The-Company, New-To-The-Industry or Market, or New-To-The-World?  It seems, for two of these cases, that innovation precedes invention.

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