First steps in innovation and entrepreneurship
First steps in innovation and entrepreneurship

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

First steps in innovation and entrepreneurship

2.2 Distinguishing terms: invention

In the following activity, you will look at a case study relating to invention.

Case study: Invention

Leonardo da Vinci invents the aerial screw

The aerial screw is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous and surprising inventions, regardless of the fact that it could never work in practice. The illustration (pictured) is from his own sketchbook and was drawn more than 500 years ago. Da Vinci was investigating a variety of theoretical problems, such as the dynamic and physical characteristics of air, and it seems that his intention was to demonstrate that air could be compressed and therefore gain material density. Da Vinci’s aerial screw anticipated some aspects of the modern helicopter, but there was no possibility of building a functioning prototype with the materials available in his time. He also sketched several other ideas for a flying machine. These included a glider with intricately-drawn wings that were derived from a detailed study of birds.

Figure 2 Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketch of the aerial screw

Activity 4

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes for this activity
  1. Can you think of another example of invention? For instance, you could select a new technology, a product, or a less tangible invention such as a process or service. Describe your invention in the box below.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Just as in the case of some discoveries, it may not have been possible to convert Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine invention into a working technology at the time, however, even ‘failed’ or ‘stalled’ inventions can still contribute to the innovation process by passing on ideas that may only be fully realised in the future. For the innovation scholars Freeman and Soete (1997, p. 6, cited in Conway and Steward, 2009, p. 9), an invention is, ‘an idea, a sketch or model for a new or improved device, product, process, or system.’ They also note that, although an invention may sometimes be patented, it may not necessarily lead to a technical innovation.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371