Innovation Is A Process, Not A Burst Of Inspiration

from the the-long-nose dept

For years, we've been pointing out that innovation is an ongoing process rather than a distinct event. While this may sound somewhat obvious, when you combine this with the difference between invention and innovation and the fact that innovation is often the more important piece for overall progress, it's curious that our patent system is designed to protect that initial spark of invention -- at the cost of hurting that ongoing process of innovation by making it more difficult and expensive. Business Week is now running an article that seems to recognize this, as it highlights the importance of the ongoing process of innovation (though, it doesn't get into the question of patents and how they play into things). It does note that too many people are only focused on that burst of invention, rather than the process of innovation -- which is understandable, but problematic if we really want to encourage innovation. It's good to see a publication like Business Week highlight this important point, because as more people start to understand this, it's more likely that they'll understand the dangers of our current patent policy.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    angry dude, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:38am

    bunch of hoooees

    The Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves..
    Mike Masnick sure knows better

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:46am

    I don't think invention comes in "bursts" either, it is an ongoing and usually slow process.

     

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  3.  
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    Mike (profile), Jan 11th, 2008 @ 11:25am

    Re: bunch of hoooees

    The Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves..

    Actually, if you look at what the Founding Fathers both said and did, it would appear they agree.

     

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  4.  
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    Matt, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 11:37am

    I'm not sure I'd agree that invention comes in bursts either, isn't the old quote something along "I didn't find a way to make a light bulb, but rather, 1000 ways NOT to make a light bulb"

    Granted I'm no expert and my history could be a bit off, but I remember something along those lines and that would tend to illustrate the lengthy process of invention.

     

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  5.  
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    listen_to_techdirt, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 12:18pm

    What's more expensive -- innovation or invention?

    ......at the cost of hurting that ongoing process of innovation by making it more difficult and expensive.
    Invention is way more expensive than innovation esp. in pure sciences and biotechnology. The patent system is very well designed for this.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 12:36pm

    So your point is that people should be free to improve upon anothers persons ideas/creations... key word being free.

    Well this concept would only work in a society where everyone is committed to improving society and not their own bankroll.

     

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  7.  
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    Jack Ward-Bolton, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 12:41pm

    In my experience ...

    I have invented a lot of things the past year - theories, websites, solutions to hard problems - and all have come epiphanies (i.e. moments where everything falls into place). When I try to innovate, it doesn't seem to produce as good results.

    Still, by effectively blocking other people from having usuable epiphanies with patents, you are harming progress.

     

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  8.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 12:59pm

    Re:

    Let's go with the light bulb analogy.

    Let's say that someone creates the original concept of a light bulb, an electrical current run threw a wire to produce light. That guy goes out and patents it and leaves it at that. The light bulb dies there because a wire with that much current threw it burns out almost instantly. Without someone improving on the idea and adding a non-oxygen atmosphere to the lit wire, the concept goes nowhere.

    The concept of the patent only works in an environment that you describe where everyone is committed to improving society. The second someone gets greedy it turns into what we have now.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 1:07pm

    The concept of the patent only works in an environment that you describe where everyone is committed to improving society. The second someone gets greedy it turns into what we have now.

    What, a society with no lightbulbs? No wonder its so dark here. Oh, and Jack Ward Bolton, your website sucks.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 1:11pm

    Re:

    Not really true.

    People aren't suggesting that the patent system be torn down and everything essentially go to 'Open Source' (well, MOST people aren't).

    People are saying go back to the original intent of the Founding Fathers. LIMIT the time you can hold a patent on the idea.

    By the way things used to work, a lot of technology and art (think Disney's version of Cinderella) would have been exclusively the patent holders, until they died or I believe it was somewhere in 50-70 years. That way the 'inventor' could reap the rewards of his discovery, but then after he's been given his due people can come along and make it better or use it in new ways.

    Imagine if lightbulb makers had to pay the descendants of Thomas Edison (the ones that held the patent via renewal) now. How much would they have to pay? How much could they get sued for if they didn't?

    Then look at real problems. How can Disney sue people over Disney's Cinderella, when that is an adaptation of works already in public domain, now that the patent holder is long since legally dead? The Disney corporation keeps renewing copyrights on products that SHOULD be in public domain by now.

    How does that "foster innovation" in any way? Sounds more like, think of an idea (preferably one that others would think of, I believe the word is 'obvious'), patent/copyright it, and milk it for eternity.

    That is exactly what the Founding Fathers DIDN'T want. But it is what is happening, and no one is doing dick about it.

    PS: lawl at AngryDude's continual failure to troll. If he isn't trying (and failing) at it then he is REALLY ignorant of any facts and is even more laughable.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 1:12pm

    Actually in the environment where everyone is committed to improving society (all aspects of it), the work would contiue on the light bulb without the creator holding his handout expecting payment for the use of the original idea.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 1:45pm

    PS: lawl at AngryDude's continual failure to troll. If he isn't trying (and failing) at it then he is REALLY ignorant of any facts and is even more laughable.

    Don't throw bricks, you are mixing up copyright protection with patent protection. They are not the same thing.

    "By the way things used to work, a lot of technology and art (think Disney's version of Cinderella) would have been exclusively the patent holders, until they died or I believe it was somewhere in 50-70 years. That way the 'inventor' could reap the rewards of his discovery, but then after he's been given his due people can come along and make it better or use it in new ways." Same goes for the lightbulb post, no, patents run out after 20 years.

     

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  13.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 2:01pm

    Re:

    My point is still valid. Delaying innovation for 20 years just slows it down instead of stopping it altogether. What if the light bulb took 20 years to develop? How would our world look today? What other country would have developed it faster and how far ahead would they be now?

    Look at the Vonage and Verizon patent dispute. Verizon didn't even hint at a VoIP service until they started the lawsuit. Then they started forcing it on the FiOS users. Having a patent portfolio that will never be used outside of court, even for 20 years, will just slow us down in 20 year increments.

    I still like the idea that was put up earlier. Have a proof of concept to patent and then bring the product to market within a certain amount of time.

     

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  14.  
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    angry dude, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Re:

    idiot

    patents last for 20 years

    hardly an eternity

    Now GFY and I'm gonna call it a day and have some beer
    See ya

     

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  15.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 2:29pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You said the same thing about work. Didn't seem to stop you.

    And by they way, I agree with you on your first post. The founding fathers are spinning in their grave, and Mike douse know better.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 2:53pm

    Re:

    Patents and copyrights are the same overall concept. Ownership of an idea... the legal nature of the terms does not apply to a theoretical discussion.

    The point is everyone wants to get paid for their contributions to the world. Until that type of thinking is gone, innovation will be stifled.

     

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  17.  
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    Mike (profile), Jan 11th, 2008 @ 3:50pm

    Re:

    Well this concept would only work in a society where everyone is committed to improving society and not their own bankroll.

    Huh? I disagree. The two things are not, at all, mutually exclusive. If the focus is on improving your bankroll, you can do that by improving on the products so that you differentiate and more people want to buy your product than the other person's. That's competition and it helps both improve society and the successful creator's bankroll.

     

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  18.  
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    Mike (profile), Jan 11th, 2008 @ 3:54pm

    Re: Re:


    People are saying go back to the original intent of the Founding Fathers. LIMIT the time you can hold a patent on the idea.


    Er, patents are quite limited. I think you're confusing patents and copyright here.

    However, what the founding fathers DID want was for the patent system to be used only in the rarest of cases, where there was market failure and a clear benefit to offering a patent to push for "the progress of science and the useful arts." It was never intended to be used for every possible idea. It was only for special cases, and they were quite worried about how it might be abused.

    If they were rolling in the ground at all these days, it would be over how the patent system is used and how folks like angry dude think it should be used. It clearly goes against everything they said and highlights all of their fears about the system.

    James Madison: "But grants of this sort can be justified in very peculiar cases only, if at all; the danger being very great that the good resulting from the operation of the monopoly, will be overbalanced by the evil effect of the precedent; and it being not impossible that the monopoly itself, in its original operation, may produce more evil than good."

     

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  19.  
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    angry dude, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 6:47pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "...how folks like angry dude think it should be used..."

    Mikey,

    I have only one(!) patent and it will stand any PTO or court scrutiny, even after KSR decision (unlike thousands of other patents owned by the likes of MShit and IBM)

    Heck, I personally have no problem at all with KSR decision...

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 7:40pm

    Re: What's more expensive -- innovation or inventi

    Invention is an expensive process anyway.

    Look at the software industry for example. How much linux cost linux distributors and the tech industry? Probably a lot of money.


    By your logics, the software industry should have software patents too!


    Let not forget the facts that the agriculture industry actually thrive without patents before these patents play a role. I am pretty sure that breeding is an expensive process of experimentation and experimentation.

    Pharmaceutical industry in Italy actually thrive without patents before they were introduced by the judical process pressed by foreign corporations.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 7:47pm

    Re: Re:

    Actually it is a MONOPOLY of ideas!

    Without patents and copyright, we would have true property.

    Everyone wants to get paid for their contributions to the world is more like they feel entitled to revenue sources based on their ideas even if they play NO ROLE in creating them.

    I make money and also did without the benefit of copyright crutch.

    I also feel that I want to be paid for my contribution but am I harming people through that kind of thinking? No, because I don't use copyright as a mean to make a living.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2008 @ 8:19am

    Re: Re:

    Patents and copyrights are the same overall concept. Ownership of an idea... the legal nature of the terms does not apply to a theoretical discussion.

    Um no.

    No question the patent system is screwed up, but patents and copyrights are not even close to the same concept. Copyright is about a specific piece of work product.

    The level of ignorance on IP issues around here is HUGE.

     

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  23.  
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    Joe Smith, Jan 13th, 2008 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Re: What's more expensive -- innovation or inv

    Invention is an expensive process anyway.

    Look at the software industry for example.


    Invention in the software industry is cheap cheap cheap. It is development / implementation that is expensive. That is why so many of us are opposed to most software patents - the person who was first to patent a mere idea (one which would have been inevitably discovered by others in short order) squeezes money from those who spent the resources to create a viable product.

    Let not forget the facts that the agriculture industry actually thrive without patents

    Development in the agricultural industry can be expensive and risky and historically patents were difficult to enforce. The result is a long history of publicly funded agricultural research and education.

     

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  24.  
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    Todd White, Jan 13th, 2008 @ 10:45pm

    Innovation

    We are using EmployeeSuggestionBox.com as in innovation app and this is working out extremely well for us.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 6:36am

    It is incorrect to say that Verizon didn't introduce VoIP until after they filed the lawsuit against Vonage. Voicewing has been around for quite a while.

     

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  26.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 11:00am

    Re:

    Did a little research, Verizon started Voicewing in 2005. Vonage started in 2001 and was in development as early as 1999. Verizon did not openly advertise it's VoIP option until after the suit was filed. Even now I had never heard of Voicewing until you said it. I had never seen it on a commercial or in those pamphlets I keep getting. (and it took me several minutes to find it on Verizon's site) All I knew is that when you get FiOS you had to get VoIP with it.

    Cisco did the same thing. Never heard of the iPhone until the suit with apple.

    I believe all my information is correct.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 11:25am

    Voicewing was announced in 2004 according to Verizon's press release of July 2004.

     

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  28.  
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    Bengt-Arne Vedin, Jan 25th, 2008 @ 5:38am

    innovation

    I take issue with the use of "innovation process" in singular. There are several different processes by which ideas are transformed into successes = innovations. You have radical innovation and incremental, service, process, and product, etc.

     

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  29.  
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    Chirag Mehta, Feb 5th, 2008 @ 6:11pm

    There are many other examples

    AJAX is also an example in this direction. The technology support in the browser for AJAX-based applications was available way before the AJAX term was coined or these applications started becoming popular. Gmail heavily used AJAX to innovate around better user experience . So, watch out, what you need is available right around the corner. What you thought was a silly or an old idea may not be silly anymore. IDEO has a "Tech Box" that is a centrally located lending library of innovation elements. Basically, it is a box that contains all kinds of materials, gadgets etc. Many visitors call it a magic box that contains many IDEO innovations, but for IDEO it is a mindset and a physical statement. IDEO team members look into this Tech Box for materials when they are designing or shall I say innovating the next product. Finding user's right pain-point and provide better experience is a key to this long nose of innovation. I have a detailed post on my blog at http://cloudcomputing.blogspot.com/2008/01/long-nose-of-innovation.html

     

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