Posthumous Patents: The Legacy of Steve Jobs

Posthumous Patents: The Legacy of Steve Jobs

Though Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, he is still very much present — especially in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Per a recent article in MIT Technology Review, Jobs has posthumously won 141 patents, with many more yet to be considered.

The Review states that a large number of these patents “reflect Apple’s intense efforts to patent every aspect of its products, no matter how small,” which is something that the former Apple CEO encouraged his company to do.

Furthermore, the patents provide a historical timeline of Apple. Jobs’ first patent, won in 1983, was for a “Personal computer.” His most recently won patent was for the design of the iconic glass cube in front of Apple’s Fifth Avenue store in New York City.

The Review includes an opinion on whether Jobs, who was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2012, was actually an inventor. According to Florian Mueller, a German programmer and patent consultant who is well informed of iPhone litigation, Jobs’ patents “don’t make him one of the greatest American inventors in history.” Mueller asserts that many of Jobs’ patents focus on design versus more substantial technical advances.

The Review elaborates on the criticism, stating that “Jobs’ name often appears alongside a score of others,” indicating that Jobs was not alone in the inventions or designs. Jobs’ name, however, carries an incredible amount of patent clout. Per the article:

“Who is named on a patent is sometimes just as important as what it says, at least that’s true for Jobs. In 2012, during a lawsuit with Motorola and Google, a Chicago judge had to order Apple’s lawyers to stop referring to a key patent covering swiping and scrolling on touch screens as ‘the Steve Jobs patent.’ Her reasoning: Apple’s lawyers were trying to turn the case into a popularity contest by invoking the beloved Apple founder. (Jobs was the first of 25 inventors named on that patent.)”

The illuminating piece also shares that just this past March, Jobs’ name was listed as the “lead inventor on a patent application covering the idea of using a tablet like the iPad to steer a sea vessel.” Whether Jobs was an “inventor” or not, his influence on technology certainly lives on.

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