The Difference Between Invention And Innovation In The Netbook Space

from the it's-all-about-the-tweaking dept

Business Week's Steve Hamm has a short post talking about the "sudden" success of "netbooks," those mini-laptops that are suddenly selling like crazy. As he notes, smaller laptops are not a new idea, and have been tried for many years in varying formats without much success. But, for some reason, after so many different experiments, it seems that the sweet spot in terms of size, usability and price have all been found.

This actually highlights something quite common in technology innovation: the difference between the idea, the invention and the actual innovation. Just the idea alone wasn't enough to actually make the product valuable. Finding that real sweetspot is a challenge for just about any product, and it involves an awful lot of experimentation to make it work. I've been reading about the early days of a number of inventions lately, and you see this story over and over again, where the initial versions really have no market, and it's a later, totally minor tweak that suddenly makes it valuable. And, of course, the best way to get that tweak to happen quickly (and thus expand a market, and improve the overall economy) is to let a lot of different players experiment to throw a lot of ideas at the market to see what actually does hit that sweet spot. Tragically, with a patent system that grants monopoly protection at the invention stage, this is often a lot more difficult, slowing down the attempts to actually hit that sweetspot.
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Filed Under: innovation, invention, netbooks


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  1. identicon
    Lonnie E. Holder, 17 Dec 2008 @ 8:55pm

    What's in it for the inventor...

    Sometimes it takes time to build a market, which has little to do with "minor tweaks." Hindsight analyses always like to claim that it was "my widget that made the invention valuable." Sure it was. On the other hand, no invention, no innovation.

    The difference between invention and innovation can be quite real, and highlights one of the problems elimination of patents can cause. Most individual inventors are rotten marketers (if you want proof, try the Wright brothers, though there are thousands of other examples). Someone may have a brilliant invention that no one else would ever have created, but they lack the ability to bring the invention to market - even though the invention may already be ready for the market.

    Some people say, "take the invention away from the inventors. They have no right to keep the invention to themselves. We want to 'innovate' it." Well, if inventors keep getting the shaft from "innovators" (read parasites whose most creative thought was to paint the inventive widget blue (now that's innovation) and have Ron Popeil pitch it on late night television), eventually inventors will get the idea, and turn to more profitable pursuits, like raising alpacas or flipping houses.

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