What is the difference between innovation and invention?

When talking about innovating and innovation a normal misconception is that we are talking about inventions. What really is the difference between the two similar terms?

Invention can be defined as the creation of a technology, product or introduction of a process for the first time.

An innovation on the other hand is when someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to a product, process or service.

So, as you see they are related to each other and usually innovation builds on top of one or more inventions. A common path to innovation is to combine earlier inventions or innovations in a new way that creates new value or targets a new kind of customer.

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.“

Thomas Edison, Inventor

Also, how you actually apply an invention, can be the innovation. Sometimes technology or theories are invented but haven’t found a wide commercial application. It can be because of poor timing, wrong target group or wrong business model. To package the invention and deliver it as a real product to a defined group of users can be the innovation in itself.

As an example, while the mobile phone is an invention, the iPhone is an innovation that contains a lot of inventions that previously existed like GSM, GPS, touch screen, apps and digital music player. The innovation mostly consisted of actually bringing all the existing technology and the user interface together in a package that could be marketed and sold as a new kind of mobile phone.

Examples of inventions:

  • The printing press
  • The light bulb
  • The airplane
  • The personal computer
  • The car
  • The clock
  • The telephone
  • The camera
  • The Internet
  • Television

Examples of innovations:

  1. HP laser printer
  2. Philips Hue lamps
  3. Airbus A380
  4. Macbook Air
  5. Tesla electric cars
  6. Apple Watch
  7. iPhone
  8. Polaroid camera
  9. Facebook
  10. Netflix streaming

So while it’s very interesting to pursue pure inventions a lot of times it’s easier to start by thinking about how you can improve on something already existing, combining parts into a marketable innovation.

What do you think needs to be innovated upon?