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What is the difference between invention and innovation?

AS, A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 4 Sept 2023

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually mean two different things!

Invention and innovation are related concepts, but they refer to different stages and aspects of the process of bringing new ideas, products, or technologies to market.

Here's a breakdown of the key differences between invention and innovation, along with real-world examples to illustrate each concept:


  1. Definition: Invention refers to the creation of a new idea, concept, method, or product that is entirely original or a significant improvement over existing solutions. It involves coming up with a novel concept or design.
  2. Focus: Invention is primarily concerned with the generation of new ideas or the development of a new product or technology. It is the initial stage of the creative process.
  3. Examples:
    • Thomas Edison's Light Bulb: Thomas Edison is often credited with inventing the practical incandescent light bulb. His work involved developing a filament that could produce light when an electric current passed through it, which was a significant innovation in lighting technology.
    • Alexander Graham Bell's Telephone: Bell is known for inventing the telephone, a device that allowed for voice communication over long distances. His invention was a groundbreaking development in telecommunications.


  1. Definition: Innovation refers to the process of taking an invention or a new idea and applying it in a way that creates value, often by bringing it to the market, improving upon it, or finding new uses for it. Innovation involves the practical implementation and commercialization of ideas.
  2. Focus: Innovation is more focused on the practical application of ideas and their impact on society, the economy, or an industry. It is about making an invention useful and marketable.
  3. Examples:
    • Apple's iPhone: While the concept of a touchscreen smartphone existed before the iPhone, Apple innovatively combined various technologies and features to create a user-friendly and highly marketable product. The iPhone transformed the mobile phone industry and how people communicate.
    • Netflix's Streaming Service: Netflix started as a DVD rental service but innovated by transitioning into a streaming service, allowing subscribers to watch movies and TV shows online. This innovation revolutionized the entertainment industry and disrupted traditional cable TV.

Key Differences:

  • Invention is about creating something new or significantly improving an existing concept, often in a laboratory or research setting. Innovation involves bringing these inventions to the market, adapting them for practical use, and creating value for consumers.
  • Invention is the initial creative spark, while innovation is the process of turning that spark into a real-world solution or product.
  • Inventions can be purely theoretical or experimental and may not necessarily lead to a marketable product. Innovations, on the other hand, are practical and market-oriented.
  • Invention is focused on the "what" (the creation of something new), while innovation is focused on the "how" (the implementation, adaptation, and commercialization of new ideas).

In summary, invention and innovation are complementary processes in the development of new ideas and technologies. Invention generates novel concepts or products, while innovation transforms these concepts into practical and marketable solutions that improve lives and drive economic growth. Both are essential for progress and advancement in various fields.

In a nutshell:

  • Invention refers to the creation of a new product or technology, such as the light bulb or the internet.
  • Innovation refers to the implementation and adoption of new products or technologies in the market, or the improvement of existing ones. For example, smartphones are an innovation built upon the invention of the mobile phone.
  • Innovation can happen without invention, and vice versa, but they often go hand-in-hand!

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