A skilled inventor can transform a good idea into a significant amount of money. But since development costs have dramatically increased over the years, most invention today occurs in private or university labs and research and development departments. Many inventors continue to work day jobs as research scientists and engineers while they develop their ideas, and these are the fields that most return to if they are unable to make it as inventors. 

With rare exceptions, a background in science is a must. Many inventors spend years working as designers for organisations before they develop the ideas that let them set out on their own. Experience in product design and development is crucial, as is knowledge of the new product’s potential market. Years working in industry or in academic research are the best methods to acquire the skills of a successful inventor.

In addition to being creative, successful inventors should also try to be effective business people. Developing a useful product is only the first step - an inventor must also be able to negotiate with established manufacturers or become an entrepreneur and go into the business of manufacturing their own ideas. Designs must be developed that avoid infringing on existing patents, and investors must protect themselves from others who might copy their existing design. 

As a full-time career, inventing provides an uncertain living for all but the most talented. Developing new products is time-consuming and often expensive, and income doesn’t start to flow until a marketable prototype is ready. Many inventors work part-time as inventors and spend the rest of their time in jobs as scientists, specialists or consultants, or in academia.

TIME Magazine: Best Inventions of 2013
TIME's Lev Grossman explains 5 of the 25 best inventions of 2013