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Inventions build upon previous inventions

You may have heard the old joke that "everything that can be invented has already been invented." This has been attributed to different sources, including Charles H. Duell, who ran the U.S. patent office around 120 years ago.

He likely did not say it. Sources have found this joke in a publication from 1899, and it appears in another book published in the 1980s. That makes it far less than conclusive that it was ever said by Mr. Duell and, even if he did say it, he likely said it in jest.

Still, it does shed some light on the way that inventions often work. They are often not brand new. They just build on the ideas that came before them.

For instance, someone invented the wheel, which was used on a cart. Later, horses were used to pull the cart. Then inventors added an engine and the automobile was born -- with the common expression that an engine has a certain amount of horsepower. Most recently, automakers have invented electric vehicles and autonomous (self-driving) cars.

This doesn't mean that the self-driving electric car isn't a new invention, but it also didn't come about on its own. You can trace the progression toward where we are today back thousands of years. That's how inventions often come about, so there is always the chance that some new iteration of a specific product or process will be invented in the future. That type of change is inevitable, given long enough.

Those who do invent these new products and spur these changes need to make sure they know what legal steps to take to protect their inventions.

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