Thursday, November 27, 2014

Steve Jobs as an inventor

Within a post titled Steve Jobs Lives on at the Patent Office , the MIT Technology Review discusses the patents of Steve Jobs.

An oblique comparison to Edison arises:

“Whether Steve Jobs was a great inventor depends on whether one is prepared to define the term extremely broadly,” says Mueller. “I’m convinced that if true American inventors like Edison, Bell, and Whitney looked upon Steve Jobs’s achievements and contributions, they would undoubtedly respect the man for what he’s done but they wouldn’t consider him one of their own.”

One criticism is that on his patents, Jobs’s name often appears alongside a score of others, meaning these inventions or designs weren’t entirely of Jobs’s making. Instead, Jobs shared credit for what Apple’s more than 80,000 employees did, something Kane argues “fed into his legend as a one-in-a-lifetime visionary.”

As to Edison, some have suggested that Edison placed his name as inventor on patents for which he was not truly an inventor.
One person's opinion: Edison WAS a thief, he would hire people, take their ideas, and fire them, he had entire divisions of minions (yes I'm using that word) just to make sure that he was the one of his age that made it into the history books, he did everything he could to deface and disgrace his colleagues and competitors... The story of Edison's interaction with Nikola Tesla is legendary. And Edison fired Reginald Fessenden.

If so, Edison might look upon Jobs' inclusion of other inventor names in a different light than suggested above. But not related to Jobs' inventorship or being "one of their own."

As to the concept of inventorship:

Tim Wasko, who developed the interface for Apple’s QuickTime player and the iPod, remembers that Jobs would give feedback on small details, and he’d often end up with a position on a patent. That’s what Wasko says happened when he came up with a concept for a button used on software called iDVD. The button shuts like an iris, giving you a chance to interrupt a process. “It looked pretty cool so he loved that,” says Wasko. “He had useful comments, suggestions, and it’s worthy of him being on the patent.”

There is an allusion to Lemelson:

Deceased inventors can win patents if the approval process draws out, or when attorneys seek “continuations”—essentially new versions of old patents. And the more lawyers and money an inventor has, the more likely his ghost will rattle on. The estate of Jerome Lemelson, the sometimes-controversial independent inventor who came up with the bar code reader, received 96 patents following his death in 1997 at age 74.

Lemelson and MIT have ties:

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by MIT's School of Engineering. The Lemelson Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives, by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention based enterprises to promote economic growth in the US and social and economic progress for the poor in developing countries.

In passing, the History Channel [H2] discussed the interrelation of Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and J.P. Morgan in the show The Men Who Built America/Changing the Game. There is a suggestion that J.P. Morgan threatened Westinghouse with an unjustified patent infringement lawsuit, which Westinghouse had insufficient funds to contest.

And recall Morgan forced Edison out of what became General Electric (and Jobs left Apple for a while.)


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