Invention Is Nothing If There's No Market For It

from the the-myth-of-the-inventor dept

For a while now, we've felt that it's important to distinguish between innovation and invention. Invention is coming up with a new idea. Innovation is the process of successfully taking a new idea to market and continually making it more and more successful. Innovation should be much more important to the economy than invention. You can invent all you want, but if there's no way to successfully create a market for it (whether the market already exists, or you figure out how to create demand for it), then it's really meaningless. That's part of our complaint with the patent system is that it rewards invention more than innovation. Part of the problem, though, is that too many people consider innovation and invention interchangeable terms. On top of that, they mistakenly then assume that patents are a proxy for both invention and innovation. Unfortunately, the end result is articles like the following CNN piece talking up invention shops as if they were driving innovation. While the story focuses on one shop that does create some unique concepts, it lumps them in with notorious patent hoarders, as if they're the same thing. Still, what it comes down to is that anyone can invent stuff. Figuring out how to make those inventions useful and marketable in a way that people want them is what drives our economy forward.


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  1.  
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    Your Mom, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 3:42pm

    I agree that the patent system rewards the invention more, but I don't think it really matters. The rest of the world rewards innovation so much more.

     

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  2.  
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    Paul, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 4:49pm

    I don't see how the patent system rewards anyone. It simply allows you exclusive rights to your invention. If there is no market for an inventions, as you are discussing, then big deal---the patent will not produce any reward. So what do you mean by saying that the patent system rewards invention more than inovation.

    I suppose you could say that the number of patents an entity holds is not an accurate measure of innovation.

     

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  3.  
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    ekc, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 5:45pm

    Too Far

    I usually agree with many of the things that you guys at Techdirt say about how borken the patent system is, but I think that absolute statement in the title is wrong. It is very true that these places that have failed at marketing shouldn't be able to then come back and sue all the people that successfully brought a product to market, but I disagree that invention is nothing if there is no market. Even if there is no market for a product at the time it was invented, there is still a great value in people showing that something can be done. A lot of the technology that we find so widespread now may have been developed when the last bubble burst but was a little bit ahead of its time so it never found much traction then. It is still very valuable that these techniques have already been developed, at least in their initial forms, so that later people can build on top of that initial breakthrough. The inventors shouldn't get to sue the hell out the innovators, but their contributions shouldn't be diminished, and I think your headline does that.

     

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  4.  
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    Brian, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 5:49pm

    So what do you mean by saying that the patent system rewards invention more than innovation?

    When the current system prevents innovating someone else's patent maybe? Or at the very least makes it prohibitively expensive/frustrating/not-worth-it/etc...

     

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  5.  
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    Mike (profile), Oct 19th, 2006 @ 5:50pm

    Re:

    If there is no market for an inventions, as you are discussing, then big deal---the patent will not produce any reward. So what do you mean by saying that the patent system rewards invention more than inovation.

    Not quite. The problem is that the patent system then lets the inventor lock up the innovation, making it more expensive. Because the innovator has to pay the inventor even if the inventor couldn't do the actual innovation to make the product useful.

     

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  6.  
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    Brian, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 5:58pm

    ... beat you by 1 minute! What do I win?

     

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  7.  
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    Mike (profile), Oct 19th, 2006 @ 5:59pm

    Re:

    ... beat you by 1 minute! What do I win?

    A patent? ;)

     

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  8.  
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    Brian, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 6:03pm

    ... and don't say "a patent"

     

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  9.  
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    dorpus, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 6:27pm

    What about denovation?

    Realistically speaking, the economy continually markets old ideas as "innovations", and makes them less and less successful with each round. It is up to academics to invent new ideas that superficially appear useless to the ignorant rabble, but often end up being quite useful later. Not so long ago, salty businessmen used to deride advanced mathematical theories as "useless", but they are extremely useful today in fields ranging from cellular communications, encryption, to architecture.

     

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  10.  
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    James, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 6:28pm

    ~95% of awarded patents never make it to market
    ~98% of patents never make back the money required to obtain the patent


    This video by the University of Mississippi SBDC is excellent for new inventors
    http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/mssbdc/idea_to_market.wmv

    Your local SBA representative may be able to help guide you through the invention/innovation process, and possibly at no cost to you.
    http://www.sba.gov/

    The following link is to the USPTO website where you can do your own patent search. The results are usually very interesting. I use it a lot when I am looking for circuit diagrams for my EE classes.
    http://www.uspto.gov/patft/index.html

    A campaign should be undertaken to educate the public regarding the reasons to, and more importantly, not to get a patent. One positive result would be the elimination of about half of the companies advertizing on this page. Invention submission companies are primarily crooks.

    The following links are official government views regarding invention submission companies.
    http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/iip/complaints.htm
    http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/ pubs/alerts/invnalrt.htm

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 9:08pm

    Both inventors and innovators have a place. Rarely do both exist in the same person. i.e. the Woz and Jobs. The trick is to make sure both are equally rewarded so that everything gets moved ahead.

     

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  12.  
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    Susheel Daswani, Oct 19th, 2006 @ 11:24pm

    Re:

    I agree with ekc. If innovation is paramount in Mike's eyes, he should applaud the patent system, because it allows innovators to focus on making inventions useful. Innovators are in the business of developing markets; Inventors are in the business of advancing technology. The patent system let's the two camps focus on their strengths, so that IF a innovator figures out how to develop a market for a invention, the inventor still reaps some reward.

    This said, I agree that the PTO should have a high standard for what can be patented as a invention. But assuming the judicial system has a firm grasp of how to fairly compensate inventors (i.e., a reasonable royalty), then Mike should not bemoan that inventors are rewarded a fraction of the innovator's spoils.

     

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  13.  
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    chris (profile), Oct 20th, 2006 @ 6:11am

    beware of mixing ideas and money

    if you use money to quantify an idea, then you are devaluing that idea. if a good idea doesn't make money, that doesn't mean it was a bad idea. the same can be said for bad ideas that do make money. money doesn't make an idea good.

    case in point: DNS is a free technology that powers all of the internet. DNS was a great idea, tho i am not sure how much money the invention generated. telemarketing, spam, phishing, and identity theft are all very bad ideas that make money. the movie "catwoman" generated money at the boxoffice, even though most people consider it to be a crime against moviegoers.

    i think mike's point is that if you have a good idea, and can't market it, you shouldn't hold that idea hostage. if another person can figure out how to market your idea, they should get the chance since the idea will probably benefit someone. distigushing invention from innovation is an attempt at separating money from ideas. the problem is that most people see money as the gold standard for quantifying (and justifying) pretty much everything.

     

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  14.  
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    angry dude, Oct 20th, 2006 @ 6:54am

    Mike

    Mike, you are a clueless idiot !

     

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  15.  
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    Mike (profile), Oct 20th, 2006 @ 11:52am

    Re: Re:

    If innovation is paramount in Mike's eyes, he should applaud the patent system, because it allows innovators to focus on making inventions useful.

    No, it puts friction in place of making inventions useful.

    Inventors are in the business of advancing technology. The patent system let's the two camps focus on their strengths, so that IF a innovator figures out how to develop a market for a invention, the inventor still reaps some reward.

    Why should an inventor reap rewards if they couldn't figure out how to make their product useful? The rewards are the marketplace which has found the product useful. It's the making the product useful part that's important. There's no reason inventors can't team up with innovators to reap the full rewards.

    But assuming the judicial system has a firm grasp of how to fairly compensate inventors (i.e., a reasonable royalty), then Mike should not bemoan that inventors are rewarded a fraction of the innovator's spoils.

    Why? The market works just fine in rewarding those who deserve the spoils.

     

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  16.  
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    Susheel Daswani, Oct 20th, 2006 @ 5:04pm

    Response to Mike

    No, it puts friction in place of making inventions useful.

    Sure, it can put friction in place of making inventions useful. It can also grease the pace of innovation. If I have rights to an invention, but I don't want to deal with innovating, i.e., bringing it to market successfully, then I can auction the innovation rights to a third party. Then I can go back to inventing and since I don't have to deal innovating, I can create the next great invention which I can then auction off to the next innovator. It allows me to specialize in inventing, and it gives innovators access to a market for inventions.

    Why should an inventor reap rewards if they couldn't figure out how to make their product useful? The rewards are the marketplace which has found the product useful. It's the making the product useful part that's important. There's no reason inventors can't team up with innovators to reap the full rewards.

    Why? Perhaps because the inventor has created a non-obvious, new, and useful contribution? Some inventors may want to get into the business of innovating, but the patent system allows others to focus on invention and leave the innovation to others. Why is that a bad thing? What specifically is your problem with inventors who simply want to invent, Mike? Why do you insist on making inventors get into the innovation game? I don't understand how you convince people to use your TechDirt corporate intelligence services since you think everyone should do everything themselves :) .

     

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