Invention is the creation of a feature or technology that is totally new. Innovation takes a collection of inventions, combines them with existing products or technologies, and produces a commercially viable product. Both invention and innovation are vitally important to our industry.
Napster changed the world 6 years ago, but we didn't invent anything. We did innovate by combining FTP (File Transfer Protocol), search, instant messaging, and P2P (Peer to Peer) networking, into a simple elegant user interface that made it easy to use.
Naspter would not have been possible without the invention of FTP, Search, IM, P2P, and several other technical inventions. These inventions were the basis for hundreds of innovative products by many different companies.
Dan'l Lewin, Corporate Vice President, .NET Business Development at Microsoft wrote an editorial today in "Always On" entitled "Microsoft, Innovation: the Democratization of Technology". Dan'l explains "The essence of Microsoft’s innovation machine is commercialization: the commoditization of technology, partner empowerment and the delivery of new products and capabilities to the global mass market. This occurs through our partner ecosystem that continually innovates or invents new ways to solve customer problems. That means there’s always something in it for others in a very big way."
Microsoft invests billions of dollars in both invention and innovation. The Microsoft Research Labs produce amazing inventions every year. Many of them are incorporated seamlessly into existing Microsoft products. Many others are extraordinary inventions, but don't fit with any Microsoft product. These inventions are now available for license through Microsoft IP Ventures.
Microsoft innovations happen every day in hundreds of different products. It happens seamlessly and without fanfare, and goes largely unnoticed. Microsoft innovates by making it easier to get work done. This means
· integrating new technical features into existing products
· making existing products interface seamlessly with new technologies
· making multiple products work together
o Like search on the desktop, or in the browser
o Like RSS in Outlook, the operating system, etc.
o Like creating Sharepoint spaces directly from Office
o Like including IM presence in Outlook email
Microsoft is sometimes criticized for not inventing anything and instead being an imitator or "fast follower". I prefer to classify Microsoft as an innovator, as defined above. I wrote another post several months ago on this subject "Innovate or Imitate...Fame or Fortune". In retrospect I should have titled it "Invent or Innovate...Fame or Fortune".
Inventions bring fame, while innovations bring fortunes. Inventions don't solve a customer problem. Innovations take inventions to the next level by adding commercially viable technologies, elegant user interfaces, and focusing them on solving a customer problem. That is what innovation is all about, creating value by solving customer problems.