I recently had the chance to hear an IT analyst speak about the invention and innovation. He offered an apt example of what the difference is between the two: “RIM invented the smart phone,” he said. “Apple innovated it.”
Invention, which is simply having a good idea, is the first, critical step in a process we call innovation. Innovation is the systematic organization, management and improvement of good ideas. History is replete with examples of talented inventors who have had their had their ideas refined and ultimately, marketed by innovators.
But in the realm of IT, innovation is what counts today. We don’t speak about the inventor of cloud or mobile applications because these technologies are built on a legacy of research and development without which they wouldn’t have been possible.
Still, while large, well-funded enterprises are better equipped to produce innovations on a massive scale, it’s often the brilliance of individual people that produce some of the most noteworthy products and services. But unfortunately for them, their much larger rivals are zealous in guarding what they consider their intellectual property, as vague as the concept may have become in an era in which everyone is borrowing ideas from one another.
Michelle De Rubeis at the Stafflink blog looks at the corrosive effect patent wars between companies like Samsung and Apple can have on the marketplace of ideas. She notes the absurdity of patent laws that were designed to encourage innovation being used to crowd out competitors. When these competitors aren’t large and powerful, it creates a situation where innovation can be stifled.
As the saying goes, you can’t fight city hall. And if you’re a solitary innovator, you can’t really fight Apple or Samsung.