Successful innovative 'leaps' in surgical technique have the potential to contribute exponentially to surgical advancement, and thereby to improved health outcomes for patients. Such innovative leaps often occur relatively spontaneously, without substantial forethought, planning, or preparation. This feature of surgical innovation raises special challenges for ensuring sufficient evaluation and regulatory oversight of new interventions that have not been the subject of controlled investigatory exploration and review. It is this feature in particular that makes earlystage surgical innovation especially resistant to classification as 'research', with all of the attendant methodological and ethical obligations - of planning, regulation, monitoring, reporting, and publication - associated with such a classification. This paper proposes conceptual and ethical grounds for a restricted definition according to which innovation in surgical technique is classified as a form of sui generis surgical 'research', where the explicit goal of adopting such a definition is to bring about needed improvements in knowledge transfer and thereby benefit current and future patients.