When Apple Fired Scott Forstall, It Fired Its Most Prolific Inventor

When Apple forced its mobile software leader Scott Forstall out of the company, it pushed out the most prolific inventor at the company, as measured by recent patent filings.

Forstall's name is on 166 pending patent applications. That's more than anyone at the company, according to data from investment bank MDB Capital.

"He's one of, if not the most prolific inventors at Apple," says Erin-Michael Gill, Managing Director and Chief Intellectual Property Office at MDB. "If this guy is who the data seems to imply he is, letting him leave is a huge deal."

MDB specializes in analyzing patent filings. It has its own database of patent information. Gill sent us a table of Apple patents filings by employees. Gill warns that it's difficult to be completely accurate about pending patents, but MDB's data is the "best data available publicly."

The two people that are filling his role combined have less than half as many patents pending. Craig Federighi, who will lead OSX and iOS, has 16 patents pending. Jony Ive, who will lead interface design, has 51 pending.

It's important to note there's a key difference between patents from Ive, and Forstall. Ive's patents are design patents, which cover the look and feel of Apple's products. Forstall's are product patents that are at the core of how iOS works, according to Gill.

For instance, Forstall's name is second on the patent that lays out exactly how the iPhone and iPad work. The first name on that patent is Steve Jobs, Apple's late cofounder, who died last year. Now, Apple will have to carry on without either of them.

Forstall was a divisive character inside Apple. When he left, there was a spin that it was good for Apple because it was getting rid of a jerky manager. However, Forstall also had a lot of people who were loyal to him at Apple. And if some of the people he collaborated with decide to leave with him, Gill warns Apple could easily lose 5-6 of its most important inventors.

Now, one could argue that just because Forstall's name is on a patent, doesn't necessarily mean he invented something. He had a reputation of managing up, and stealing credit for other people's work. Even if that's true, and somehow he managed to unfairly attach his name to half of these patents, he's still one of the most important people in Apple.

Reading over the patents with Forstall's name attached to them makes it clear he has his fingers in everything Apple is doing in mobile, says Gill.

There was also a report that Forstall was out of ideas, and that's part of the reason he's out. Gill thinks that's laughable. He says Forstall was a "font of innovation at Apple."

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