Invention is the most important product of scientific knowledge. Without invention, science would be merely inquiry for its own sake, serving few and helping no one.


Invention involves the discovery of new processes, ideas or tools. Invention is prioritary, meaning that only a new or previously unknown discovery can be considered an invention, as opposed to the development of an already existing one. Coming up with an invention requires priority, meaning that no one else must have come up with the same (or similar) idea at any previous time.


Innovation, on the other hand, involves the use or development of an invention for some useful purpose. Innovations have often served as the point of departure for new inventions. Innovation is typically less risky than invention, since it usually deals with known parameters, qualities or quantities. Invention, on the other hand, often involves a leap unto the unknown, where trial and error, the unexpected or even chance can have a substantial influence on the outcome. The high risk of invention can act as a deterrent to many organizations and individuals, particularly when rewards cannot be clearly anticipated.


In many ways invention is the wellhead of innovation, even though many inventions are often rooted in existing innovations. Innovations could therefore not occur without some previous inventive discovery, even though they can come full circle to inspire new inventions. The relationship between invention and innovation often becomes a synergistic circular flow that reproduces inventive talent for new and varied purposes.


Technology is the aggregation of all existing inventions and innovations. Technology can be transferred across borders and between activities, as long as the requisite knowledge and hardware can be made available. Inventive talent, in contrast, can be transferred only if the individuals possessing it are willing to relocate. Although inventive capabilities can be learned, considerable amounts of time, education, knowledge and institutional support are typically required for invention to be generated endogenously.


Societies and economies that concentrate much inventive talent therefore become important sources of invention. They also become potential sources of much innovation and new technology. Intangibles play a major role in this process. The accumulation of creativity, knowledge, skills and experience is a vital prerequisite for any nation or region to become a major source of invention, innovation and new technology. This process of accumulation requires time, since the talents and intangibles needed may not be widely known, are usually difficult to specify, or may not be marketed at all.


By measuring the level of patented inventions available for innovation, the concept of innovative capacity therefore provides an indication of the potential or capacity for innovation. This indicator can also serve as a measure of inventive output.


For a discussion of possible uses of the concept of innovative capacity, see Real World Applications.

For published work on the concept, see Publications.



Copyright Luis Suarez-Villa. All rights reserved.