An invention is a new composition, device, or process. An invention may be derived from a pre-existing model or idea, or it could be independently conceived in which case it 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 or experience. 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.
Invention is a creative process. An open and curious mind enables one to see beyond what is known. Seeing a new possibility, a new 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 skip over the boundaries between distinctly separate territories or fields. Ways of thinking, materials, processes or tools from one realm are used as no one else has imagined in a different realm.
Play can lead to invention. Childhood curiosity like playing in a sand box, experimentation and imagination can develop one's play instinct—an 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: "I never did a day's work in my life, it was all fun". Inventing can also be an obsession.
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; or when the focus is on something else; or even while relaxing or sleeping. A novel idea may come in a flash - a 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 outcome that is uncertain or unknown. 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 believe in their ideas and they do not give up in the face of one or many failures. They are often famous for their perseverance, confidence and 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, e.g., lighter weight, more ergonomic, structurally different, with new light or color properties, etc.
Or an entirely new invention may be created such as the Internet, email, the telephone or electric light. Necessity may be the mother of invention, invention may be its own reward, or invention can create necessity. Nobody needed a phonograph before Edison invented it, the need for it developed afterward. Likewise, few ever imagined the telephone or the airplane prior to their invention, but many people cannot live without these inventions now.
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. As the dialogue between Picasso and Braque brought about Cubism, collaboration has spawned many inventions. Brainstorming can spark new ideas. Collaborative creative processes are frequently used by designers, architects and scientists. Co-inventors 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 States. The creation of an invention and its use can be affected by practical considerations.
Some inventions are not created in the order that enables them to be most useful. For example, the parachute was invented before powered flight. 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 an invention that is only an idea into reality can take considerable time, even centuries as demonstrated by inventions originally conceived by Leonardo da Vinci which are now in physical form and commonplace in our lives. Interestingly, some invention that exists as only an idea and has 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.
Invention has a long and important history in the arts. Inventive thinking has always played a vital role in the creative process. While some inventions in the arts are patentable, others are not because they cannot fulfill the strict requirements governments have established for granting them. (see patent).
Art, design and architecture
"A man paints with his brain and not with his hands." - Michelangelo
Art is continuously reinvented. Many artists, designers, and architects think like inventors. As they create, they may: explore beyond that which is known or obvious, push against barriers, change or discard conventions, and/or break into new territory. Breaking the rules became the most valued attribute in art during the 20th century, with the highest acclaim going to conceptual innovation which frequently involved the invention of new genres. For the first time the idea within the artwork was unmistakably more important than the tangible art object. All kinds of artists have been inventing throughout history, and among their inventions are important contributions to visual art and other fields.
Some visual artists like Picasso become inventors in the process of creating art. Inventions by other artists are separate from their art, such as the scientific inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. Some inventions in visual art employ prior developments in science or technology. For example, Picasso and Julio Gonzalez used welding to invent a new kind of sculpture, the form of which could be more open to light and air, and more recently, computer software has enabled an explosion of invention in visual art, including the invention of computer art, and invention in photography, film, architecture and design. Like the invention of welded sculpture, other inventions in art are new mediums, new art forms, or both.
Examples are: the collage and the construction invented by Picasso, the Readymade invented by Marcel Duchamp, the mobile invented by Alexander Calder, the combine invented by Robert Rauschenberg, the shaped painting invented by Frank Stella, and the motion picture, the invention of which is attributed to Eadweard Muybridge. Art has been reinvented by developing new processes of creation.
For example, Jackson Pollock invented an entirely new form of painting and a new kind of abstraction by dripping, pouring, splashing and splattering paint onto unstretched canvas laying on the floor. A number of art movements were inventions often created collaboratively, such as Cubism invented by Picasso and Braque. Substantial inventions in art, design and architecture were made possible by inventions and improvements in the tools of the trade.
The invention of Impressionist painting, for example, was possible because the prior invention of collapsible, resealable metal paint tubes facilitated spontaneous painting outdoors. Inventions originally created in the form of artwork can also develop other uses, as Alexander Calder's mobile is commonly used over babies' cribs today. Funds generated from patents on inventions in art, design and architecture can support the realization of the invention or other creative work. Frederic Auguste Bartholdi's 1879 patent on the Statue of Liberty helped fund the statue currently in New York harbor because it covered small replicas.
Among other artists, designers and architects who are or were inventors are: Filippo Brunelleschi, Le Corbusier, Naum Gabo, Frederick Hart, Louis Comfort Tiffany, John La Farge, Buckminster Fuller, Walt Disney, Man Ray, Yves Klein, Henry N. Cobb, I. M. Pei, Kenneth Snelson, Helen Frankenthaler, Chuck (Charles) Hoberman and Ingo Maurer. Some of their inventions have been patented. Others might have fulfilled the requirements of a patent, like the Cubist image. There are also inventions in visual art that do not fit into the requirements of a patent. Examples are inventions that cannot be differentiated from that which has already existed clearly enough for approval by government patent offices, such as Duchamp's Readymade and other conceptual works.
Invention whose inventor or inventors are not known cannot be patented, such as the invention of abstract art or abstract painting, oil painting, Process Art, Installation art and Light Art. Also, when it cannot or has not been determined whether something was a first in human history or not, there may not be a patentable invention even though it may be considered an invention in the realm of art. For example, Picasso is credited with inventing collage though this was done earlier in cultures outside of the western world.
Inventions in the visual arts that may be patentable might be new materials or mediums, new kinds of images, new processes, novel designs, or they may be a combination of these. Inventions by Filippo Brunelleschi, Frederick Hart, Louis Comfort Tiffany, John La Farge, Walt Disney, Henry N. Cobb, Chuck (Charles) Hoberman and others received patents. The color, International Klein Blue invented by Yves Klein was patented in 1960 and used two years later in his sculpture. Inventions by Kenneth Snelson which are crucial to his sculptures are patented. R. Buckminster Fuller's famous geodesic dome is covered in one of his 28 US patents. Ingo Maurer known for his lighting design has a series of patents on inventions in these works.
Many inventions created collaboratively by designers at IDEO Inc. have been patented. Countless other examples can easily be found by searching patents at the websites of the Patent Offices of various countries, such as http://www.USPTO.gov.
Inventions in design can be protected in a special kind of patent called a "design patent". The first design patent was granted in 1842 to George Bruce for a new font. See a database of patents in the arts at http://www.patenting-art.com/database/dbase1-e.htm. See images and text from some patents in the arts at http://www.patenting-art.com/images/images-e.htm.
The steps of inventing go as follows:
1 Idea: any random person can get an idea. Sometimes they are not the best ideas,but others could change the world.
2 Record: writing your idea down.
3 Diagram: adding drawings and explanations.
4 Plan: Figure out how to create your idea.
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 internalized—unless 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 counterintuitively - 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.
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