4.10 What has been learnt from the history of the telephone?
Here are some points about invention and innovation that seem to have emerged from considering the case of the telephone.
Invention is an ongoing process not a one-off event.
It's not always possible to identify one individual as the inventor of a new technological product – even in well-known cases.
Boldness and determination, allied with sufficient resources and a good support team – especially good patent lawyers – seem to be just as important as technical ingenuity.
It can take a great deal of imagination to foresee how a new technology might be used, particularly for potential financial backers not directly involved with the development of the technology.
An innovation needs a competitive advantage over existing technologies or products in order to succeed.
The success of an innovation depends on regular improvements to its performance, reliability and design. This is usually achieved by building on a series of innovations in supporting technology, improvements in manufacturing processes, component performance, new materials use and so on.
The affordability of innovative products is important – this is related to the cost of its manufacture and the relative affluence of buyers.
There's a relationship between new technology and needs – new technologies can create new markets that provide an incentive to make further improvements to the technology.
A group of early, sometimes specialised users of an innovation can play an important part in giving momentum to its sales.
As the use of an innovation spreads it changes from being a novelty or luxury to a necessity for increasing numbers of people.
There are fashions in innovative products, shaped by marketing and advertising, which can stimulate demand for a particular product.
Governments can affect the context for innovation in particular areas of technology.
There are factors that can suppress or delay the spread of an innovation, particularly in the early years of its development: patent disputes over ownership; resistance from people with a stake in established technologies; protective inertia in business and institutional structures resisting radical change.
Research and experimentation into one technology can contribute to the development of another spin-off technology.