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Inventors vs Innovators

18 September 2020


In its mining heyday Cornwall was a centre of world-changing innovation and engineering. A number of leading minds worked long hours to pioneer solutions for some of the greatest problems of the day. Initially, many of the steam engine erectors and engineers came from outside Cornwall. The development of deep, hard-rock mining during the 18th century repeatedly threw up problems for which practical solutions had to be found. Other people’s ideas and skills were sometimes imported, whilst local mine owners, merchants, miners and engineers were constantly experimenting, improving and innovating.

Understanding the difference between inventor and innovator is a critical factor in the success or otherwise of exploiting ideas. In fact, to commercialise ideas the more successful inventors are required to transition to an ‘innovation’ mindset. The 5 critical differences between them are:

Inventor vs Innovator

Often have more than 1 idea: Single idea
No direct industry / sector experience link: Idea evolved from industry experience
Focus on IPR and protection: Focus on end-user and scaling
Often 3+ years in development: Seeking quick to market trajectory
Solution seeking a problem: Solution to a problem

Recognising the traits are vital to evolving concepts into fully fledged commercially viable products and services.
The inventor typically spends money creating knowledge (new technology or otherwise), whereas the ‘innovator’ spends the knowledge creating money. This case can be easily demonstrated with the electric light bulb.
The electric light bulb, was one of those conveniences that solved the simple problem of improving on candle-light. However, it was not “invented” in the traditional sense in 1879 by Thomas Alva Edison, although he could be said to have created the first commercially practical incandescent light.

He was neither the first nor the only person trying to invent an incandescent light bulb. In 1802, Humphrey Davy invented the first electric light. He experimented with electricity and invented an electric battery. When he connected wires to his battery and a piece of carbon, the carbon glowed, producing light. His invention was known as the Electric Arc lamp. And while it produced light, it didn’t produce it for long and was much too bright for practical use.
Over the next seven decades, other inventors also created “light bulbs” but no designs emerged for commercial application. Although the Edison’s patent described several ways of creating the carbon filament including using “cotton and linen thread, wood splints, papers coiled in various ways,” it was not until several months after the patent was granted that Edison and his team discovered that a carbonized bamboo filament could last over 1200 hours.
This discovery marked the beginning of commercially manufactured light bulbs and in 1880, Thomas Edison’s company, Edison Electric Light Company began marketing its new product.

If you are solely an inventor, your start-up options could include: (i) sell the intellectual property underlying your inventions before they are commercialised, which will net you nominal value, (ii) partner with someone who has innovator skills, or (iii) risk losing it all by attempting to play the roles of both inventor and innovator. Remember that very few people are successful at both roles because each requires distinct skills and aptitudes.

Thinking of developing new product ideas? Then contact us further to see if our funding support (up to £25k of match-funding) can help you de-risk and reduce the time it takes to bring new ideas to market!

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