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For Steve Jobs, Patents Kept Beauty Of Design Alive

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
May 13, 2012

U.S. Patent number D486486 reads: “A display device with a moveable assembly attached to a flat panel display and to a base.” Then there’s patent number D469109 for: “The ornamental design for a media player, substantially as shown and described.”

Those are just a couple of the hundreds of 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’ biography, and he’ll be speaking at a Smithsonian event in early June. He tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin that Steve Jobs belongs right alongside the pantheon of great American inventors like Edison, 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.”

Isaacson says the design collaboration between Jobs and industrial designer Jony Ive was one of the “greatest in our modern era.”

Even though his name is on more than 300 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.

Interviewing designer Jony Ive for his book, Isaacson says he told him that it was Steve Jobs that 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, including the original iPod. Jobs was taught early on, Isaacson says, that you have to impute a beauty to a product from the moment people see the box.

That idea carried over to the now famous Apple stores, where Steve 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 Steve Jobs’ motives were slightly different. He says Jobs putting his name on so many patents came mainly from 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. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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