I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


27 November 2013

The patents of Jonathan Ives for Apple

London's Evening Standard had tonight an interesting article about "Jonty" Ives of Apple, the London-born designer who together with Steve Jobs created the distinctive look of the company's products: How Jonty Ive saved Apple from bankruptcy.

I found the five ways listed in detail by which Ive made Apple's products iconic particularly interesting (they include using white, plastic and touch screens), but wonder if the statement that he was "named in more than 600 patents" is quite right. The article is written for a British audience and should, I suggest, recognise local practice.

The USA recognises several variants of patents.

The main one is the utility patent (which is what Europeans would call simply a patent), and which is basically for functional products or methods of making them, and which is normally published first as an application and then later as a granted patent.

Next in popularity is the design patent, which is for a look deliberately given to things. In the UK they are called registered designs and are never referred to as patents.

These rights can be searched for on the free Espacenet database. Entering in the "publication number" field the following codes restricts the hits found to that variety:

USA = utility patent applications (published 18 months after applied for); numbered as e.g. 2013256346 with the publication year as the first four digits
USB = utility patent grants (published after application stage when examiners at the US Patent Office have approved it); numbered as e.g. 8000000 in a series that began in 1836
USS = design patent grants; numbered as e.g. D600000

If each of those codes is entered, plus Apple as the applicant and Jonathan Ive (his real name) in the inventor field, the number for each variety is:

USS = 619, listed as Jonathan Ive's US design patents
USA = 31, listed as Jonathan Ive's US patent applications
USB = 26, listed as Jonathan Ive's US patent grants

While Ive is certainly prolific, this shows that his main influence is as a designer and not as an inventor. The second and third groups largely overlap, as most of the grant entries list corresponding applications. Incidentally, Apple is famed for giving numerous people credit for utility patents -- ten names is normal. Steve Jobs, as Steven Jobs, appears 545 times if a search is done for him on Espacenet. Here are the 36 granted patents by him; here are the 291 US Design patents by Jobs, where he (like Ives) really came into his own.

So what sort of work has Ive been involved with ? The inventions are mostly for the appearance of things and, to be frank, the drawings do not look that exciting. However, I did like Armband for holding an electronic device, illustrated below.

The much more numerous designs show that no detail is too small. If you like the sleek, minimal look (including the famous rounded corners) that Apple likes so much then you like Ive's design work. For example



At the end of the newspaper article is given the fact that Jony Ive by Leander Kahney is being published on Thursday by Portfolio Penguin.

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