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What is an invention?

An invention is a unique or novel device, method, composition, process or discovery. It

may also be an improvement upon a machine or product, or alternate means of achieving a
process. An invention that is not derived from an existing model or idea, or that achieves a
completely unique function, discovery, or result, may be a radical breakthrough.
In addition, there is cultural invention, which is an innovative set of useful social
behaviors adopted by people and passed on to others. Inventions often extend the boundaries of
human knowledge, experience or capability. An invention that is novel and not obvious to others
skilled in the same field may be able to obtain the legal protection of a patent.

Definition in the dictionary

invention [in-ven-shuhn]
1. the act of inventing.
2. U.S. Patent Law . a new, useful process, machine, improvement, etc., that did not exist
previously and that is recognized as the product of some unique intuition or genius, as
distinguished from ordinary mechanical skill or craftsmanship.
3. anything invented or devised.
4. the power or faculty of inventing, devising, or originating.
5. an act or instance of creating or producing by exercise of the imagination, especially in art,
music, etc.
6. something fabricated, as a false statement.
7. Sociology . the creation of a new culture trait, pattern, etc.
8. Music . a short piece, contrapuntal in nature, generally based on one subject.
9. Rhetoric . (traditionally) one of the five steps in speech preparation, the process of choosing
ideas appropriate to the subject, audience, and occasion.
10. Archaic . the act of finding.

Word Origin & History

mid-14c., from L. inventionem (nom. inventio) "a finding, discovery," from inventus, pp. of invenire
"devise, discover, find," from in- "in, on" + venire "to come" (see venue). Meaning of "thing
invented" is first recorded 1510s. Invent is from late 15c. Etymological sense
preserved in Invention of the Cross, Church festival (May 3) celebrating the reputed finding of the
Cross of the Crucifixion by Helena, mother of Constantine, in 326 C.E.

Related forms
inventional, adjective
inventionless, adjective
preinvention, noun
self-invention, noun

Inventors' Day
Inventors' Day is a day of the year set aside by a country to recognise the contributions of
inventors. Not all countries recognise Inventors' Day. Those countries which do recognise an
Inventors' Day do so with varying degrees of emphasis and on different days of the year.

Invention is a creative process. An open and curious mind allows an inventor to see
beyond what is known. Seeing a new possibility, connection, or relationship can spark an
invention. Inventive thinking frequently involves combining concepts or elements from different
realms that would not normally be put together. Sometimes inventors disregard the boundaries
between distinctly separate territories or fields.
Play can lead to invention. Childhood curiosity, experimentation, and imagination can
develop one's play instinctan inner need according to Carl Jung. Inventors feel the need to play
with things that interest them, and to explore, and this internal drive brings about novel creations.
Thomas Edison said, "I never did a day's work in my life, it was all fun". Inventing can also be an

Thomas Edison with phonograph. Edison is

considered one of the most prolific inventors
in history, holding1,093 U.S. patents in his

To invent is to see anew. Inventors often envision a new idea, seeing it in their mind's
eye. New ideas can arise when the conscious mind turns away from the subject or problem, when
the inventor's focus is on something else, or while relaxing or sleeping. A novel idea may come in
a flasha Eureka! moment. For example, after years of working to figure out the general theory
of relativity, the solution came to Einstein suddenly in a dream "like a giant die making an indelible
impress, a huge map of the universe outlined itself in one clear vision". Inventions can also be
accidental, such as in the case of polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon).
Insight is also a vital element of invention. It may begin with questions, doubt or a hunch.
It may begin by recognizing that something unusual or accidental may be useful or that it could
open a new avenue for exploration. For example, the odd metallic color of plastic made by
accidentally adding a thousand times too much catalyst led scientists to explore its metal-like
properties, inventing electrically conductive plastic and light emitting plastic-an invention that
won the Nobel Prize in 2000 and has led to innovative lighting, display screens, wallpaper and
much more (see conductive polymer, and organic light-emitting diode or OLED).
Invention is often an exploratory process, with an uncertain or unknown outcome. There
are failures as well as successes. Inspiration can start the process, but no matter how complete
the initial idea, inventions typically have to be developed. Inventors are often famous for their
confidence, their perseverance and their passion.
Inventors may, for example, try to improve something by making it more effective,
healthier, faster, more efficient, easier to use, serve more purposes, longer lasting, cheaper, more
ecologically friendly, or aesthetically different, lighter weight, more ergonomic, structurally
different, with new light or color properties, etc. Entirely new invention may be created such as
the Internet, email, the telephone, or electric light.
The idea for an invention may be developed on paper or on a computer, by writing or
drawing, by trial and error, by making models, by experimenting, by testing and/or by making the
invention in its whole form. Brainstorming also can spark new ideas for an invention.

Collaborative creative processes are frequently used by designers, architects and scientists. Coinventors are frequently named on patents. Now it is easier than ever for people in different
locations to collaborate. Many inventors keep records of their working process - notebooks,
photos, etc., including Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein. In the process of
developing an invention, the initial idea may change. The invention may become simpler, more
practical, it may expand, or it may even morph into something totally different. Working on one
invention can lead to others too. There is only one country in the world that will grant patent rights
for an invention that continues part of an invention in a previously-filed patent-the United
The creation of an invention and its use can be affected by practical considerations.
Visionary inventors commonly collaborate with technical experts, manufacturers, investors and/or
business people to turn an invention from idea into reality, and possibly even to turn invention into
innovation. Nevertheless, there are inventions that are too expensive to produce and inventions
that require scientific advancements that have not yet occurred. These barriers can erode or
disappear as the economic situation changes or as science develops. But history shows that
turning the idea of an invention into reality is not always a swift or a direct process, even for
terrific inventions. It took centuries for some of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions to become reality.
Inventions may also become more useful after time passes and other changes occur. For
example, the parachute became more useful once powered flight was a reality. Some invention
ideas that have never been made in reality can obtain patent protection.
An invention can serve many purposes. These purposes might differ significantly and
they may change over time. An invention, or a further-developed version of it, may serve
purposes never envisioned by its original inventor(s) or even by others living at the time of its
original invention. As an example, consider all the kinds of plastic developed, their innumerable
uses, and the tremendous growth this material invention is still undergoing today.

Inventions get out into the world in different ways. Some are sold, licensed or given away
as products or services. Simply exhibiting visual art, playing music or having a performance gets
many artistic inventions out into the world. Believing in the success of an invention can involve
risk, so it can be difficult to obtain support and funding. Grants, inventor associations, clubs and
business incubators can provide the mentoring, skills and resources some inventors need.
Success at getting an invention out into the world often requires passion for it and good
entrepreneurial skills.
In economic theory, inventions are one of the chief examples of "positive externalities", a
beneficial side-effect that falls on those outside a transaction or activity. One of the central
concepts of economics is that externalities should be internalizedunless some of the benefits of
this positive externality can be captured by the parties, the parties will be under-rewarded for their
inventions, and systematic under-rewarding will lead to under-investment in activities that lead to
inventions. The patent system captures those positive externalities for the inventor or other patent
owner, so that the economy as a whole will invest a more-closely-optimum amount of resources
in the process of invention.

Invention in patent law

The legal invention concept is central in patent law. As is often the case for legal
concepts, its meaning is slightly different from common parlance meaning. A further complication
is that the invention concept is quite different in American and European patent law.
In Europe, the first test patent applications are submitted to is: "is this an invention"? If it
is, subsequent questions to be answered are whether it is new, and sufficiently inventive. The
implication - rather counter intuitively - is that a legal invention is not inherently novel. Whether a

patent application relates to an invention is governed by Article 52 of the European Patent

Convention, that excludes e.g. discoveries as such and software as such. The EPO Boards of
Appeal have decided that the technical character of an application is decisive for it to be an
invention, following an age-old German tradition. British courts don't agree with this interpretation.
Following a 1959 Australian decision ("NRDC"), they believe that it is not possible to grasp the
invention concept in a single rule. A British court once stated that the technical character test
implies a "restatement of the problem in more imprecise terminology".
In the United States, all patent applications are considered inventions. The statute
explicitly says that the American invention concept includes discoveries (35 USC 100(a)),
contrary to the European invention concept. The European invention concept corresponds to the
American "patentable subject matter" concept: the first test a patent application is submitted to.
While the statute (35 USC 101) virtually poses no limits to patenting whatsoever, courts have
decided in binding precedents that abstract ideas, natural phenomena and laws of nature are not
patentable. Various attempts were made to substantiate the "abstract idea" test, which suffers
from abstractness itself, but eventually none of them was successful. The last attempt so far was
the "machine or transformation" test, but the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2010 that it is merely
an indication at best.

Invention and innovation

In the social sciences, an innovation is anything new to a culture, whether it has been adopted or
not. The theory for adoption (or non-adoption) of an innovation, called diffusion of innovations,
considers the likelihood that an innovation will ever be adopted and the taxonomy of persons
likely to adopt it or spur its adoption. This theory was first put forth by Everett Rogers. Gabriel
Tarde also dealt with the adoption of innovations in his Laws of Imitation.

THE 1900S
The decade that kicked off the 20th Century was responsible for two inventions that
helped define the next 100 years. The airplane and the radio set the planet on a course to
becoming truly a global village.
Featured inventions:
The Radio
The Airplane
The Disposable Razor
The Air Conditioner
The Vacuum Cleaner

THE 1910S
The decade saw The Great War, The Flu Epidemic and the Titanic disaster. Ten years into
the 20th Century and the world is grappling with some serious growing pains. In a decade
racked by conflict, there were inventions that made the world both safer and infinitely
more dangerous.
Featured inventions:
Gas Mask
Tommy Gun
THE 1920S
The roaring '20s marked a decade of unprecedented prosperity. It's no wonder the
inventions that defined the 1920s are all about entertainment and convenience. Motion
picture and television are two of the greatest inventions since sliced bread - both of which
were invented during this time.
Featured inventions:
The Television
Sound Film
Lie Detector
Einstein's Refrigerator
THE 1930S
In a decade dominated by the Great Depression, the inventors of the 1930s are
desperately trying to make a living. They come up with some simple yet ingenious
inventions that are still practical necessities in our fast-paced life.

Featured inventions:
Parking Meter
Walkie Talkie
Electric Guitar
THE 1940S
It was a decade of big bands and big bangs. During the Second World War, the 1940s
bring us some of the greatest inventions of all time. And in the peaceful years that
followed, all that inventing know-how would carry on in ways we never imagined.
Featured inventions:
The Jet Engine
The Computer
The Microwave Oven
Kitty Litter
The Crash Test Dummy
THE 1950S
Welcome to the decade of Rock 'n Roll, drive-ins and McCarthyism. An America flush
with cash and terrified of the "Red Menace" defines the inventions of the 1950s.
Featured inventions:
The Transistor Radio
Flight Data Recorder
The Breath-a-lyzer
The Hovercraft
THE 1960S
The inventions of the 1960s were all about transforming science fiction into fact. Robots,
satellites and a trip to the moon help make what was once only fantasy, become a reality.
Featured inventions:
The Lunar Lander
The Weather Satellite
The Video Game Console
The Taser
The Industrial Robot
THE 1970S
This decade is best remembered for disco and Watergate. But with inventions like the cell
phone and the digital camera, the 1970s mark the beginning of the digital age to-come.
Featured inventions:
Cell phone

Bomb Disposal Robot

Post It Note
Hybrid Car
Digital Camera
THE 1980S
It's the decade of Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher; cold war and glasnost; big beats,
big hair and fashions that seemed like a good idea at the time. The inventions of the
1980s have us looking inward at our own DNA and outward to the far reaches of space.
Featured inventions:
The Internet
DNA Profiling
The Nicotine Patch
MIR Space Station
Endoscopy Capsule
THE 1990S
The last decade of the 20th Century sets us on course for the next 100 years. With
inventions like Global Positioning Satellites and The Hubble Space Telescope, the
inventions of the 1990s help us see where we've been and where we're going.
Featured inventions:
Hubble Space Telescope
Wind Up Radio
Camera Phone
Mars Pathfinder
The Neurotrophic Electrode


Genetic Engineering
Artificial Intelligence
Human Cloning
Hydrogen Powered Cars
Artificial Heart

First paper money printed in China.
Movable type printing by Bi Sheng in China
Circa 1050
Crossbow invented in France.
Magnetic compass invented.
Circa 1200
Clothing buttons invented.
The Hindu-Arabic numbering system introduced to the west by Italian mathematician, Fibonacci.
Rodger Bacon invented his gunpowder formula.
Circa 1250
Gun invented in China.
Circa 1268 - 1289
Invention of eyeglasses.
Circa 1280
Mechanical clocks invented.
Circa 1285 - 1290
Windmills invented.
Modern glassmaking begins in Italy.
First sawmill.
First mention of a handgun.
Scales for weighing invented.
First golf balls invented.
The first piano called the Spinet invented.
Trigger invented.
Oil painting invented.

Johannes Gutenberg invents printing press with metal movable type.
In Venice, the first known copyright granted.
Leonardo DaVinci designed the first parachute.
Bell chimes invented.
Leonardo da Vinci first to seriously theorize about flying machines.
Martin Behaim invented the first map globe.
Whiskey invented in Scotland.
Wheel-lock musket invented.
The first flush toilets appeared.
Leonardo DaVinci designs a horizontal water wheel.
Pocket watch invented by Peter Henlein.
Urs Graf invents etching.
A graphite pencil invented by Conrad Gesner.
Bottled beer invented in London.
Gerard Mercator invents Mercator map projection.
Englishmen, William Lee invents a knitting machine called the stocking frame.
Dutchmen, Zacharias Janssen invents the compound microscope.
Galileo Galilei invents a water thermometer.
Hans Lippershey invents the first refracting telescope.
The earliest human-powered submarine invented by Cornelis Drebbel.
Frenchmen, Jean-Baptiste Denys invents a method for blood transfusion.

W. Gascoigne invents the micrometer.
Frenchmen, Blaise Pascal invents an adding machine.
Evangelista Torricelli invents the barometer.
Bartolomeo Cristofori invents the piano.
Englishmen, John Shore invents the tuning fork.
Thomas Newcomen patents the atmospheric steam engine.
Edmond Halley invents the diving bell.
Samuel Johnson publishes the first English language dictionary on April 15th after nine years of
writing. In the preface Samuel Johnson wrote, "I am not so lost in lexicography as to forget that
words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven."
John Campbell invents the sextant.
Dolland invents a chromatic lens.
The first soft drink invented.
Aloys Senefelder invents lithography.
Count Alessandro Volta invents the battery.
Samual Morse invents Morse Code.
American, Thaddeus Fairbanks invents platform scales.
American, Charles Goodyear invents rubber vulcanization.
Frenchmen, Louis Daguerre and J.N. Niepce co-invent Daguerreotype photography.
Kirkpatrick Macmillan invents a bicycle.
Jesse W. Reno invents the escalator.
Rudolf Diesel invents the diesel-fueled internal combustion engine.