The iPhone patent war as Steve Jobs tribute

A photo of the U.S. Patent Office / Smithsonian Exhibit, “The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology that Changed the World”

When Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone in 2007, he knew Apple would be setting off a patent war. At least that’s what I heard.

And as I’ve repeatedly reminded the 12 readers of this blog ever since, I was there. (Have I mentioned that?)

Indeed, immediately after the Steve Jobs’ keynote (the Stevenote*), I returned to my room and posted a list of my thoughts. I haven’t looked back at those notes until today, when I searched to see if I’d said anything about patents, because, in my memory, I recall Jobs talked about patents throughout the iPhone launch.

Sure enough, here is one of my observations: “Jobs said the word “patents” — “we’ve got patents” — at the beginning, middle and end of the iPhone presentation. I think that means Apple expects lots of time in the courtroom.”

Why did I go looking for that note?

In much of the running commentary about the Apple-Samsung patent case that is taking place now, there are lots of words being devoted to whether or not Apple should be suing over these patents — and a lot of arm chair QBs have suddenly become experts in patent law and the history of technology development. (My favorite thread among these insta-patent-historians suggests that Apple stole patents and then patented the stolen patents. If that’s true (and it certainly sounds true) I think Apple should  seek to patent the process of stealing and re-patenting patents.)

Frankly, my observation has nothing to do with the merits of the case.

My observation is merely this: It was clear on the day the iPhone was announced that patent lawyers were as involved in its development to a degree only surpassed by Sir Jony Ives. They were working on lawsuits like this Samsung case years before the iPhone was released. These suits were going to happen as sure as the iPhone itself was going to happen.

Earlier this summer, I  wrote about and posted a Flickr Set of photos I took of an exhibit at the Smithsonian I visited that was a display of the patents and trademarks that carry the name of Steve Jobs on them. Let me say that again, slowly: At the Smithsonian, I saw an exhibit of the patents (the actual documents) that have Steve Jobs’ name on them.

The Smithsonian, and the U.S. Patent Department historians who helped them curate it, came up with this name for the exhibit: “The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology that Changed the World.” The U.S. Patent Office and the Smithsonian were exhibiting these patents as if they are national treasures.

Again, think about this slowly: The U.S. Patent Department helped to curate an exhibit for the Smithsonian Museum that celebrates Steve Jobs’ as a filer and recipient of patents and the exhibit is called,”The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology that Changed the World.”

I don’t know what all this means, other than this: Steve Jobs was obsessed with patents.

For the patent lawyers employed by Apple, this case is about protecting Jobs’ legacy as much as protecting the iPhone — and they are merely following in the steps of what the U.S. Patent Department and the Smithsonian have already done.

*I’ve heard the iPhone Stevenote described as the best presentation ever made. While I  thought it was pretty good, personally, I’d give the edge to the Gettysburg Address, the I Have a Dream speech and the Sermon on the Mount.