Kenedict Innovation Analytics

Apple’s Internal Innovation Network Unraveled – Part 1 – Evolving Networks

Among consumers and technology enthusiasts, Apple is seen as a true champion in innovation. Since the release of the first iPhone in 2007, the company has grown into one of the world’s largest technology players with an estimated brand worth of $185 billion, according to Millward Brown’s recently released ‘Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands for 2013’. Apple’s stock performance since then is widely known. What’s less clear is how the company’s internal innovation networks have evolved over the years. Who have been the key designers and inventors in Apple’s network? What role did Steve Jobs play in the network? In how far has the interconnectedness between inventors grown over time? An analysis of Apple’s inventor network sheds light on these questions.

Written by André Vermeij, Kenedict Innovation Analytics

The recent Apple vs. Samsung patent lawsuits have led to a surge of new insights into Apple’s internal innovation processes and key players. The mystery surrounding the company’s renowned industrial design team (responsible for the design of key products such as the iPad and iPhone) has partly been uncovered by this (see here, for instance). However, an objective, data-driven overview of the structure of Apple’s internal collaboration networks is still missing. Let’s take a deep dive into the company’s patent data and fill this gap.

The analysis below is based on all published patents granted to Apple from January 2007 to December 2012.

Apple’s evolving inventor network
The visualizations below depict the evolution of the largest interconnected component in Apple’s inventor network over time (to improve readability, smaller components and isolated inventors are not shown here). Each node reflects an inventor, each tie reflects a patent collaboration. Node colours reflect technology classes, while node sizes show the overall connectedness of an inventor by measuring their total number of ties/collaborations (the node’s so-called degree centrality).

The largest components in Apple's inventor network over a 6-year period

The largest components in Apple’s inventor network over a 6-year period

The above clearly shows a significant increase in the number of inventors and the number of ties over time. The largest component of inventors consisted of 184 inventors in the 2007-2008 network, grew to 617 inventors in 2009-2010 and eventually included a total of 1167 inventors in 2011-2012. The overall connectivity between Apple’s inventors increased significantly – in 2011-2012, over 82% of all collaborations took place within the largest component in the inventor network. The patent output resulting from the largest component also increased substantially; while less than half of the 2007-2008 patents originated from the largest interconnected subset of inventors, from 2009 onwards this increased to approximately 3 out of every 4 patents.

The table below summarizes a selection of statistics and indicators.

A number of important network-related statistics

A number of important network-related statistics

The large yellow node in the centre of the networks is the late Steve Jobs. Surrounded by the members of the company’s full industrial design team (the red central nodes in the components above), he indeed fulfilled a pivotal role in the company from an inventor network perspective as well.

Coming up in the next post: a detailed view on the dense core of Apple’s inventor network, comprising all lead designers responsible for the designs of all Apple’s current products.

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