A few years back, in writing about the difference between innovation and invention, we noted that most of the stories about America's "great inventors" were often myths. They exaggerated the impact of the people in question -- and in most cases, the so-called "inventors" were really innovators. They took ideas that were already out there and made them better or more marketable. This is no small feat. In fact, we believe that this is often a much more important function. Taking a product or technology that is going nowhere, and turning it into something useful that people want and value is what helps grow our economy every day. But, it's different than "inventing," which is the process of coming up with something brand new. It's important to understand the difference, as the way we perceive things and the policies we encourage often depend on the distinction. For example, one of our problems with the patent system is that it's usually designed to reward invention, rather than innovation -- and, in doing so, can often hinder innovation. With that in mind, it's interesting to see Digg point us to a new article that reiterates how little inventing Thomas Edison actually did. He, or his employees, did plenty of innovating, and he was a successful marketer (of himself, in large part). Those are all very useful things, and he shouldn't be slighted for it -- but he should be talked about for his ability to innovate, rather than invent.
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