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The Resignation of Steve Jobs and his Contributions to Apple's IP

post Friday September 9, 2011

Tags: apple, ip management, patents, steve jobs



In late August, Steve Jobs announced his resignation as Apple CEO.  In his resignation letter, he was quoted as stating, "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know, unfortunately, that day has come."  As the world loses a technological visionary known for his work in revolutionizing the personal computing, music, and mobile-phone landscape, attention is paid to his lesser recognized contributions - namely Apple’s intellectual property development. 

A closer look at the patents filed by Apple over the years reveal that Mr. Jobs has his name on an impressive 313 Apple patents (as reported by The New York Times).  Sure, some of these we can guess - like the product designs for Jobs’ iconic iPhones, iPads, and iPods.  But Jobs was also involved in the design of more minor patented designs like the cardboard packaging for scores of iPods/iPhones or white plastic power adaptors that may seem insignificant, but may have very well contributed to the allure of Apple’s unique product line. 

The number of patents that carry Jobs’ name is far larger than those granted to most other technology company chiefs.  According to the USPTO, just nine Microsoft patents carry the name of Bill Gates, who was a co-founder of the company and its chief executive for more than two decades, and only about a dozen Google patents carry the names of co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.  We have to wonder, does a focus on design really add that much value to the overall company?  Considering Apple’s concentration on product design, combined with the fact that Apple recently surpassed Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company, most would agree that yes, a focus on design can definitely contribute to a company’s value added.

As Mr. Jobs steps down from the chief executive role, his involvement in the intellectual property development, as well as, his successful public image brings the question of whether Apple’s streak of innovation can continue over the long term.  In his resignation letter to the board of directors, Jobs stated that he "strongly recommended" the board name Tim Cook, the current Chief Operating Officer as his successor.  Mr. Jobs has been elected chairman of the board and Mr. Cook will join the board, effective immediately, the company said.  The board is said to spend most of its time discussing product development and that there already exists a roadmap for the next several years.

While Mr. Jobs' resignation is certainly a blow to Apple, the company still seems to be in a stable long-term position with its pipeline of products, churning out new versions of its Macs, iPhones, iPads, and iPods every year.

"This definitely marks the end of an era," said Michael Gartengerg, an analyst for Gartner, but he added that "there's much more to Apple than Steve Jobs."  Whether that statement will ring true specifically for Apple’s design patents, consumers will have to wait and see.

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