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An invention is a unique or novel device, method, composition or 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.
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. The Institute for Social Inventions collected many such ideas in magazines and books. Invention is also an important component of artistic and design creativity. Inventions often extend the boundaries of human knowledge, experience or capability.
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 designers, architects and scientists. Co-inventors are frequently named on patents.
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.
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.
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. 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. Inventors feel the need to play with things that interest them, and to explore, and this internal drive brings about novel creations. Thomas Edison said, "I never did a day's work in my life, it was all fun". Inventing can also be an obsession. Sometimes inventions and ideas may seem to arise spontaneously while daydreaming, especially when the mind is free from its usual concerns. For example, both J. K. Rowling (the creator of Harry Potter) and Frank Hornby (the inventor of Meccano) 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". 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).
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.
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.
In the social sciences, an innovation is something that is new, better, and has been adopted. The theory for adoption of an innovation, called diffusion of innovations, considers the likelihood that an innovation is adopted and the taxonomy of persons likely to adopt it or spur its adoption. This theory was first put forth by Everett Rogers. Gabriel Tarde also dealt with the adoption of innovations in his Laws of Imitation.
An invention can serve many purposes. These purposes might differ significantly and may change over time. An invention, or a further-developed version of it, may serve purposes never envisioned by its original inventor(s) or by others living at the time of its original invention. As an example, consider all the kinds of plastic developed, their many uses, and the significant growth this material invention is still undergoing.
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The term invention is also an important legal concept and central to patent law systems worldwide. As is often the case for legal concepts, its legal meaning is slightly different from common usage of the word. Additionally, the legal concept of invention is quite different in American and European patent law.
In Europe, the first test a patent application must pass is, "Is this an invention?" If it is, subsequent questions are whether it is new, and sufficiently inventive. The implication—counter intuitively—is that a legal invention is not inherently novel. Whether a patent application relates to an invention is governed by Article 52 of the European Patent Convention, that excludes, e.g., discoveries as such and software as such. The EPO Boards of Appeal decided that the technical character of an application is decisive for it to represent an invention, following an age-old German tradition. British courts don't agree with this interpretation. Following a 1959 Australian decision ("NRDC"), they believe that it is not possible to grasp the invention concept in a single rule. A British court once stated that the technical character test implies a "...restatement of the problem in more imprecise terminology."
In the United States, all patent applications are considered inventions. The statute explicitly says that the American invention concept includes discoveries (35 USC § 100(a)), contrary to the European invention concept. The European invention concept corresponds to the American "patentable subject matter" concept: the first test a patent application is submitted to. While the statute (35 USC § 101) virtually poses no limits to patenting whatsoever, courts have decided in binding precedents that abstract ideas, natural phenomena and laws of nature are not patentable. Various attempts were made to substantiate the "abstract idea" test, which suffers from abstractness itself, but eventually none of them was successful. The last attempt so far was the "machine or transformation" test, but the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2010 that it is merely an indication at best.
Invention has a long and important history in the arts. Inventive thinking has always played a vital role in the creative process. While some inventions in the arts are patentable, others are not because they cannot fulfill the strict requirements governments have established for granting them. (see patent).
Art is continuously reinvented. Many artists, designers, and architects think like inventors. As they create, they may explore beyond what is known or obvious, push against barriers, change or discard conventions, or break into new territory. Breaking the rules became the most valued attribute in art during the 20th century, with the highest acclaim going to conceptual innovation that frequently involved the invention of new genres.
Inventions in art are new processes of creation, new mediums, and new art forms. Some visual artists like Picasso become inventors in the process of creating art. As the dialogue between Picasso and Braque brought about Cubism, such collaborations spawn many inventions. Some inventions in visual art employ prior developments in science or technology. For example, Picasso and Julio Gonzalez used welding to invent a new kind of sculpture, the form of which could be more open to light and air. More recently, computer software has enabled an explosion of invention in visual art, including computer art, and advances in photography, film, architecture and design.
Other inventions in art include the:
Likewise, Jackson Pollock invented an entirely new form of painting and a new kind of abstraction by dripping, pouring, splashing and splattering paint onto un-stretched canvas lying on the floor.
Inventive tools of the artist's trade also produced advances in creativity. Impressionist painting became possible because of newly invented collapsible, resealable metal paint tubes that facilitated spontaneous painting outdoors. Inventions originally created in the form of artwork can also develop other uses, i.e., Alexander Calder's mobile, which is now commonly used over babies' cribs. Funds generated from patents on inventions in art, design and architecture can support the realization of the invention or other creative work. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi's 1879 design patent on the Statue of Liberty helped fund the famous statue because it covered small replicas, including those sold as souvenirs.
Other artists, designers and architects who are or were inventors include:[original research?]
Some of their inventions have been patented. Others might have fulfilled the requirements of a patent, like the Cubist image.
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