A Visualization of Apple's Almost 10,000 Patents Over the Last Four Decades

To maintain its lead in the industry, Apple must protect a lot of its innovative ideas from

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To maintain its lead in the industry, Apple must protect a lot of its innovative ideas from competitors. The analytic experts over at Kenedict have put together a dynamic interactive map, visualizing the company’s patents in the last four decades (January 1978 to October 2014). Unsurprisingly, late Apple founder and visionary Steve Jobs connects many of the dots in the map, joining together patents and teams through numerous collaborative efforts. The visualization presents an interesting look at how some of the patents connect, from Jony Ive’s design team in bright red to the bottom right part of the map consisting of mobile device component inventions. For the full breakdown and to see the image in its full scale (unfortunately it’s cropped here to fit within our dimensions), head over to Kenedict. The site also provides an era-by-era analysis of the different types of innovation periods over the years.

Ever since Steve Wozniak filed Apple’s first patent back in 1977, the company has been increasing its yearly patent output immensely: while only 19 patents were published during the first decade of the company’s existence, nowadays about 100-200 patents are published each month, with over 1,800 published patents during the first ten months of 2014 alone. Analyzing the connectivity between Apple’s patents and inventors over the years allows to answer a wide variety of questions: for instance, how did technology and knowledge clusters evolve within Apple? From which moment onward did Steve Jobs start playing a pivotal role in connecting Apple divisions? How did the company’s industrial design team (also see here) initially form, and how are they connected to other parts of the company? Let’s turn to network analytics to get a view on this.

The visualisation above shows that Apple’s full technology portfolio is composed of clearly identifiable clusters of inventors and related technologies. The top part of the light blue cluster at the left consists of Apple’s industrial design team, led by Jony Ive – the bottom part is mainly composed of patents and inventors relating to mobile device components. Steve Jobs served as the key connector between the left and right parts of the network, by connecting the dark blue cluster at the right (which consists of all things related to user interfaces and operating systems) to the design and mobile devices cluster. The red cluster at the right is largely focused on iTunes, while the small purple cluster on the far right is composed of Apple’s experts and patents in data encryption and security.

Although interesting conclusions can be drawn from ‘static’ networks based on fixed time periods such as the above, dynamic network analysis spanning multiple time periods can provide a whole new perspective on the actual formation and decline of (sub-)networks. Let’s start dissecting the above network based on various time periods to get a sneak peek into Apple’s technology history.

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