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Difference Between Discovery and Invention

Inventions and discoveries have been two of the most prominent ways in which we measure the scientific advancement of any civilisation.

Discovery is an act of finding. If someone finds a naturally occurring phenomenon or a thing that was not seen or recognised before, then it is called discovery. Discovery leads to the accumulation of knowledge about a certain topic that was previously not researched upon. It can be the discovery of something that existed in plain sight but was not recognised due to a lack of knowledge or correct instruments, or it can also be the discovery of something that was hidden or unobservable to humans because of the very same reasons that are described above.

In very simple terms, discovery can be equated to observation. Observation is one of the most basic tools through which we acquire knowledge about our surroundings. Humans have had this capability since the earliest times in their civilisational history. It was by observation and by applying the knowledge gained through observation that they were able to invent the first tools used by humans.

Now, this leads to invention. The invention is the application of all the knowledge that we have gained through discovery and observation. The invention is something that is not naturally occurring. It is made from artificial means. This involves the betterment and refining of the natural phenomena to suit human purposes. For example, nuclear fission is a natural phenomenon. It was discovered sometime around 1938. But nuclear weapons are an invention. Humans made them by using all the information that was gathered by observing the process of fission. When the natural laws of nature are applied to meet human ends, it is called invention. A general characteristic of an invention is that it improves the quality of what already is in existence. In that sense, it is an active perusal of advancement achieved through human labour.


In science specifically, discovery is defined as the observation of new phenomena, actions, or events that explain a previously unresolved scientific problem formulated as a result of all the knowledge acquired before. Theoretical science works in three important steps: discovery, description and explanation. Discovery is the stepping stone, passing through which we advance to the subsequent steps. When something is discovered, it must then be described in detail to aid scientific research. When the descriptive part is over, all the knowledge gained through both of the previous steps is then used to arrive at an explanation. It can be done by developing a theoretical model or a set of conjectures. These attempts lead to experimentation to predict other phenomena. A prediction is an important tool when dealing with theoretical sciences. It helps in verifying or disproving a certain conjecture. Suppose a further discovery verifies a prediction. In that case, it serves as a sign of further affirmation that the work done and the process used is correct and can be used to explain and predict further discoveries.

Scientists use a process called the five sigma level to determine if an observation is actually a discovery. It involves ascertaining how unlikely an event is. If the event is deemed too unlikely through a series of experiments, then the observation is discarded as a discovery.


The invention is closely associated with the field of engineering. Just as engineers look for a way to use a scientific law or a discovery to devise something that can be practically applied for the betterment and advancement of sciences or even society, inventors achieve the same end product as the engineers. Indeed, a large proportion of inventors are engineers. It is due to the considerable skill required to make an invention.

In modern times, inventions are encouraged by means of patents. Patents are a bureaucratic process that helps in reducing the intellectual theft of inventions. This means that an inventor can assure that any invention that the inventor has made is credited correctly. This helps in raising the profile of the inventor. It also gives an incentive to other inventors to go on and invent something that improves upon the current invention.


Discovery Invention
  • It is an act of finding something that was unknown, unobserved or unrecognised previously.
  • They are natural occurrences and do not involve any artificial contribution.
  • Discoveries cannot be patented by anybody because it is usually not practically viable.
  • It can occur by accident.
  • It is the application of the knowledge gained through discovery.
  • It is artificial in nature.
  • It can be patented by individuals.
  • It is a result of a long process initiated by a human.
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