User Innovation: A Novel Framework for Studying Animal Innovation Within a Comparative Context

Lydia Hopper, Director of Behavioral Management, Research Animal Resources, Johns Hopkins University & Andrew Torrance, Paul E. Wilson Distinguished Professor of Law and Associate Dean of Graduate and International Law, University of Kansas School of Law

User innovation refers to the process by which individuals or groups create novel products to address their own needs, or the needs of those close to them. It is important to distinguish user innovation from the traditional model of innovation. In the classic model, firms or entrepreneurs innovate in order to satisfy market needs, and, in doing so, seek to earn profits. User innovation has been documented in myriad contexts, from sports equipment to medical treatments, and computer software to machine tools. Like user innovators, animals typically innovate to solve problems they themselves face, not intentionally to benefit others and nor to create a new product for profit, and Gruter Institute Fellows Lydia Hopper and Andrew Torrence propose that human user innovation is much more analogous to innovation by animals than is human innovation in a more traditional sense. Both human and animal user innovation share the initial phases of invention to satisfy personal needs and Hopper and Torrece argue that the human user framework allows for a novel way with which we can describe and define animal innovation, and one with more directly allows for cross-species comparisons. However, they also note that human and animal innovations diverge at the diffusion and commercial phases. Furthermore, human user innovators often collaborate in the innovative process, yet such collaborative inventing is rarely, if ever, observed among animals. Future research using the user innovation framework will allow us to more clearly find parallels and differences between how animal and humans innovate.