"Inventor" and "Invented" redirect here. For other uses, see Invention (disambiguation).
For more details on inventions throughout history, see Timeline of historic inventions.
For the CAD design software, see Autodesk Inventor.
'BUILD YOUR OWN TELEVISION RECEIVER.' Science and Invention magazine cover, November 1928

An invention is a unique or novel device, method, composition or process. The invention process is a process within an overall engineering and product development process. It may be an improvement upon a machine or product or a new process for creating an object or a result. An invention that achieves a completely unique function or result may be a radical breakthrough. Such works are novel and not obvious to others skilled in the same field. An inventor may be taking a big step in success or failure.

Some inventions can be patented. A patent legally protects the intellectual property rights of the inventor and legally recognizes that a claimed invention is actually an invention. The rules and requirements for patenting an invention vary from country to country and the process of obtaining a patent is often expensive.

Another meaning of invention is cultural invention, which is an innovative set of useful social behaviours adopted by people and passed on to others. [1] The Institute for Social Inventions collected many such ideas in magazines and books. [2] Invention is also an important component of artistic and design creativity. Inventions often extend the boundaries of human knowledge, experience or capability.

The Process of Invention

Practical means of invention

Alessandro Volta with the first electrical battery. Volta is recognized as one of the most influential inventors of all time.

The idea for an invention may be developed on paper or on a computer, by writing or drawing, by trial and error, by making models, by experimenting, by testing and/or by making the invention in its whole form. Brainstorming also can spark new ideas for an invention. Collaborative creative processes are frequently used by engineers, designers, architects and scientists. Co-inventors are frequently named on patents.

In addition, many inventors keep records of their working process - notebooks, photos, etc., including Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Evangelista Torricelli, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein. [3] [4] [5] [6]

In the process of developing an invention, the initial idea may change. The invention may become simpler, more practical, it may expand, or it may even morph into something totally different. Working on one invention can lead to others too. [7]

History shows that turning the concept of an invention into a working device is not always swift or direct. Inventions may also become more useful after time passes and other changes occur. For example, the parachute became more useful once powered flight was a reality. [8]

Conceptual means

Thomas Edison with phonograph. Edison is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,093 U.S. patents in his name.

Invention is often a creative process. An open and curious mind allows an inventor to see beyond what is known. Seeing a new possibility, connection, or relationship can spark an invention. Inventive thinking frequently involves combining concepts or elements from different realms that would not normally be put together. Sometimes inventors disregard the boundaries between distinctly separate territories or fields.[ citation needed] Several concepts may be considered when thinking about invention.


Play may lead to invention. Childhood curiosity, experimentation, and imagination can develop one's play instinct—an inner need according to Carl Jung.[ citation needed] Inventors feel the need to play with things that interest them, and to explore, and this internal drive brings about novel creations. [9] [10]

Sometimes inventions and ideas may seem to arise spontaneously while daydreaming, especially when the mind is free from its usual concerns. [11] For example, both J. K. Rowling (the creator of Harry Potter) [12] and Frank Hornby (the inventor of Meccano) [13] first had their ideas while on train journeys.


To invent is to see anew. Inventors often envision a new idea, seeing it in their mind's eye. New ideas can arise when the conscious mind turns away from the subject or problem when the inventor's focus is on something else, or while relaxing or sleeping. A novel idea may come in a flash—a Eureka! moment. For example, after years of working to figure out the general theory of relativity, the solution came to Einstein suddenly in a dream "like a giant die making an indelible impress, a huge map of the universe outlined itself in one clear vision". [14] Inventions can also be accidental, such as in the case of polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon).


Insight can also be a vital element of invention. Such inventive insight may begin with questions, doubt or a hunch. It may begin by recognizing that something unusual or accidental may be useful or that it could open a new avenue for exploration. For example, the odd metallic color of plastic made by accidentally adding a thousand times too much catalyst led scientists to explore its metal-like properties, inventing electrically conductive plastic and light emitting plastic-—an invention that won the Nobel Prize in 2000 and has led to innovative lighting, display screens, wallpaper and much more (see conductive polymer, and organic light-emitting diode or OLED). [15]


A rare 1884 photo showing the experimental recording of voice patterns by a photographic process at the Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Many of their experimental designs panned out in failure.

Invention is often an exploratory process with an uncertain or unknown outcome. There are failures as well as successes. Inspiration can start the process, but no matter how complete the initial idea, inventions typically must be developed.


Inventors may, for example, try to improve something by making it more effective, healthier, faster, more efficient, easier to use, serve more purposes, longer lasting, cheaper, more ecologically friendly, or aesthetically different, lighter weight, more ergonomic, structurally different, with new light or color properties, etc.

Implementing Inventions

Western Arabic numerals - an example of non-material inventions.
Railways — probably the most important invention in land transport. (Railway station in Bratislava, Slovakia)

In economic theory, inventions are one of the chief examples of " positive externalities", a beneficial side-effect that falls on those outside a transaction or activity. One of the central concepts of economics is that externalities should be internalized—unless some of the benefits of this positive externality can be captured by the parties, the parties are under-rewarded for their inventions, and systematic under-rewarding leads to under-investment in activities that lead to inventions. The patent system captures those positive externalities for the inventor or other patent owner so that the economy as a whole invests an optimum amount of resources in the invention process.