Understanding Originality, Innovation and Invention

Aim of this article is to make readers understand important terms such as originality, invention and innovation and the subtle differences among them.

A person, very passionate about inventing solutions to problems in society once came to meet me. He said that he had invented something fantastic which was the best answer to many health and hygiene related social issues. He was insistently explaining that it was for the first time somebody had come up with such a solution. He added that after multiple searches through the internet he found out that there was not even a single attempt to make such a product in the past. I realized that he was trying to tell me that he had developed a novel product. Searching through the internet, I could easily sense that it was something that we (as IPR lawyers) would have found already existing after doing a detailed “prior art search”, and then we would be in a position to tell him that he had ‘invented’ something which was pre-existing and well known in the world.

My words to that effect fell on his deaf ears as he was in no mood to hear that. That is usually the case because the passion about his idea makes a person blind to the world. Therefore I told him a small but interesting story so that he could understand where his invention would stand over the known prior art.

There was a kid studying in nursery and enjoying life. His teacher sent a note to his parents notifying them about the annual social gathering in their school. Immediately after receiving the note, his mother approached the class teacher and wanted her kid to perform in a group dance. They started practicing and the D-day came. His parents were sitting in the auditorium of the school and they were waiting for the next performance of their child in the group dance. Now this kid is on the back stage along with other kids of his age. Typically there are curtains which are closed before the program starts. The bell rings and a person on the back of the curtains pulls a string so that the curtains move in opposite directions and audience can see the opened stage. The bell rang and while the person was pulling the string and the curtains were travelling in opposite directions the kids were watching it. He was astonished to see this magic for the first time in his life. Now in this particular case, the kid was a very sensitive to the technology in the surroundings and he could not ignore this event like any other kid. He was just asking himself how was it possible to move the curtains by pulling a string. This group received a big round of applause and the kids started dancing on the music but our kid didn’t participate in the dance. He was just thinking about the activity of opening the curtains by pulling a string. He was lost in his own world and started finding the answer. Everybody was trying to cheer that kid to make him dance. But alas!

Now ….fast forward. This kid is now in fourth standard of his school. One fine morning he starts screaming with joy and calls his mother to show her a surprise. What had happened was very interesting. His mother had given a compartment to this boy which was positioned in a wall, in which he could keep his books and stationary articles. He had developed a curtain and string mechanism to cover that compartment and open it by pulling the string. The mother came and saw the successful demonstration of his magical mechanism. She was elated and appreciated her child and subsequently went on for another job. The kid was a little disappointed because he thought that what he had demonstrated was a grand effort and he deserved much more than just simple appreciation for it. The boy was expecting something big from his mother.

Now if we see this carefully, the mother was right on her part and the kid was also correct on his part. Let us see what had happened in reality. The kid developed his own mechanism after a lot of thought process and efforts. It was a landmark development for him. However, for the mother it was just one more curtain on a string, a thing that she had seen multiple times in her life. She already knew it. So her reaction was understandable. She just realized that the boy was on the right track and might have a good future. For the kid, as he had developed the mechanism without any reference it was his own work. He did not know the rest of the world and what was the state of the art. He was just an eight year old boy who had created something useful on his own.

If we see this as a third party, it will be evident that the kid was ‘original’. He just knew the problem and not the solution to it. He took a few years to solve the problem. So the solution which he came up with was a great find in itself, but it was just an original solution. It was not THE original curtain opening mechanism that was made for the first time on this globe.

So the learning is that if you make something on your own then you might come out with an original solution in the form of a product or a process. So you are in the category of “originality”.

If however your creation is an original solution for the very first time in the world then it may shift you to the category of an “inventor” because you made an “invention”. So how do you qualify as an inventor then? An inventor is someone who invents an original product or a process or both, for the first time in the world and that product/process is not obvious for a person having ordinary skills in the field of the invention. So mere originality is not sufficient to qualify as an inventor, and in addition to originality you have to be the first one to create that product/process in the world which makes your product/process Novel. Here the concept of novelty is very important. Novelty is acquired by making an original product/process for the first time in the world.

Making an original and new product/process which would not be obvious for a person having ordinary skills in the field (art) would qualify for an “invention”. It may happen the certain product/process meets the criteria of novelty (original and new) but doesn’t qualify for non-obviousness then we can say that such a product/process is original and novel but not an invention. It is just an “innovation”

Originality: Product/process created on your own (without copying any other work)

Novelty: Original and for the first time in the world

Invention : Novel and non-obvious over the prior art

Innovation: Original and novel but obvious for a person having ordinary skill in the art. It generally adds value to the existing products/processes.

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