by Mike Masnick

Edison's Innovations Much More Impressive Than His Inventions

from the rethinking-innovation dept

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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Bill, Dec 19th, 2006 @ 7:40pm


    I agree most of the great discoveries we have had were more innovations rather then inventions. Almost everything can be traced back to ideas expressed elsewhere.

    My lastest innovation can be found here http://www.PayPoll.org

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    comboman, Dec 19th, 2006 @ 8:03pm

    Both are important

    Innovation and invention are BOTH important. If no one is inventing then the "innovators" have no raw material to turn into something marketable. And no, the patent system should NOT reward innovation instead of invention. Innovation doesn't need to be rewarded, the market does that just fine. There are lots of problems with the current patent system (overly broad patents, patents on obvious solutions, ignoured prior art, etc), but protecting inventors (who work hard to produce knowledge that may have no immediate application just so some "innovator" can profit off it) is not one of them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Cracka, Dec 19th, 2006 @ 8:33pm


    Don't be hatin' whitey

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Whitey, Dec 19th, 2006 @ 9:47pm

    Edison's Medicine

    Edison is to Al Gore as Tesla is to the Department of Defense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Danny, Dec 20th, 2006 @ 1:20am

    Fascinating piece. Thanks Mike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Malkantar, Dec 20th, 2006 @ 5:14am

    Re: Edison's Medicine

    Whitey, you got that right.

    Tesla, the true inventor of the light bulb, AC Current, the longest man made arc of lightning (from his own hand). Also the philidelphia project and the death ray.

    History books need to change. And if it wasn't for tesla we wouldn't have microwaves or TV's (tesla coils inside both of these)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Thomason, Dec 20th, 2006 @ 8:25am


    To suggest that the listed inventions of Edison are "little" is really dumbing-down what he did, and from that minimized premise to reach for logic against patenting may be the weakest or most unimaginative thought I've ever read on this site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, Dec 20th, 2006 @ 6:24pm

    Not tesla

    Tesla was a key promoter of AC power, but he did not invent the incandescent light bulb, Swan (a Scot) did. Hence the Invcandecent Bulb is sometimes referred to as the Swan-Edison bulb, after Swann, who invented it, and Edison, who improved it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    finally, Dec 27th, 2007 @ 6:01pm

    Not only did Edison have his worker sign over their innovations and inventions for the money they got in the form of a monthly paycheck Edison was a cruel boss. He had a habit of spitting in his workers faces. He ruled by fear and corrupt politics. Those who got in his way usually regretted it.

    I'm not surprised to find most of our "great" inventors were actually anything but charlatans. It goes along with the proverb, kill a man and you're a murderer. Kill 1,000,000 and you are a hero.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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