For Steve Jobs, Patents Kept Beauty Of Design Alive
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Steve Jobs filed more than 300 patents, now on display at the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Patent No. D486486 reads: “A display device with a moveable assembly attached to a flat panel display and to a base.” Then there’s Patent No. D469109, “the ornamental design for a media player, substantially as shown and described.”
Those are just a couple of the more than 300 patents that bear the name Steven P. Jobs, the late CEO of Apple. A new exhibition opened on Friday at the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center in Washington, D.C., titled The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology that Changed the World.
Walter Isaacson is the author of Steve Jobs: A Biography. He tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin that Jobs belongs right alongside the pantheon of great American inventors like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and the Wright brothers.
“Even more importantly … he was great at design patents,” Isaacson says. “He understood that design matters [and] that beauty matters.”
Even though his name is on hundreds of patents, Jobs wasn’t necessarily a skilled engineer. His expertise, Isaacson says, was in his ability to identify and execute great design and ideas.
“The magic of Apple under Steve Jobs was — and still is — that it could connect design and beauty to great engineering, and then execute on it,” he says.
Jobs’ collaboration with industrial designer Jony Ive was one of the “greatest in our modern era,” Isaacson says. Ive told him it was Jobs who was able to appreciate the great ideas, embrace them, develop and execute them.
“That’s why his name is on so many patents,” he says.
Some of those patents include even the packaging for many Apple products, like the original iPod. Jobs was taught early on that you have to impute a beauty to a product from the moment people see the box, Isaacson says.
That idea carried over to the now-famous Apple stores, where Jobs also has his name on the patent for the iconic glass staircases that seem to hover in the air.
“He had the patent on how it [was] fastened and how those stairs seemed to float,” he says. “And in our lives, in a world of shoddy products, it reminds us that beauty matters.”
Though most companies file design and product patents simply to keep their property safe, Isaacson says Jobs’ motives were slightly different. He says Jobs was demonstrating his care for design.
“When you care enough about how you open a box or how you get to the second floor of the store, that shows a commitment to beauty and design,” he says.
The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology that Changed the World is showing at the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center in Washington, D.C., from May 11 through July 8.