The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
MIND: Documenting Invention

Inventing | Documenting | Things to Collect | Resources


Working with living inventors has taught us how important it is to understand invention as inventors experience it for themselves--as a nonlinear, creative process. Rather than a singular “Eureka” moment or a step-by-step “recipe,” invention is the result of ideas that mature over time. In the course of developing an invention, inventors tinker, build prototypes, sketch ideas, conduct experiments, and write down observations.

Just as there are very few “Eureka” moments, the stereotype of the “lone inventor” is also a myth. Both professional relationships (with patent lawyers, business partners, and investors) and personal ones that provide emotional support and encouragement can play a role. Besides tangible resources (money, tools, and materials), inventors draw on a range of intangible resources, including pre-existing knowledge gained through both formal and informal training. Inventors may also be influenced by current events, such as wars or economic conditions.

The later stages of the invention process often produce more than patent documents and new products and devices. The record of the invention process can also include business records and publicity materials, especially if the inventor sells or licenses the invention; interviews, lectures, and publications; and in cases of patent infringement, court documents.

Last Update: 29 Dec 2010

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