Smithsonian

Three hundred of Steve Jobs' patents, four stories down

May 20, 2012: 6:08 PM ET

If you didn't already know about the Smithsonian's exhibit, you'd never find it

At the Smithsonian: The patents and trademarks of Steve Jobs

FORTUNE -- First you have to find which of the Smithsonian's 19 museums houses the Steve Jobs' exhibit that opened last week -- not an easy task for someone unfamiliar with the monumental geography of Washington D.C.

Then, once you locate the Ripley Center -- a tiny circular building, just to the right of the Institute's big red castle -- and subject your backpack to the usual weapons search, you still have to ask (because there is no sign) where you can find The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology that Changed the World.

Then it's a subterranean voyage four stories below ground into a space that is deceptively, suspiciously large. A space deep enough to hide a vice president or two.

Finally, next to the MathAlive experience where all the middle-school-age kids seem to be headed, there it is: A blow-up of Steve Jobs' face on the cover of Walter Isaacson's biography. And behind it, row after row of framed documents representing every patent ever signed by Apple's late co-founder.

Some are simple icons -- the iPhone's map icon, the air ballon for Messages. Some are objects so familiar they have become icons in their own right. The original Mac. That silly, circular mouse. The flying-saucer shaped AirPort base station. The Apple Store's glass stairway.

The first patent, filed on Nov. 3, 1980 and illustrated with the case of the Apple II, is described simply as "Personal Computer." The last patent, filed on Oct. 4, 2011, the day before Jobs died, is for "User Interface for Providing Consolidation and Access."

Design patent 504,889

After a search of several minutes I was able to locate design patent 504,889, unhelpfully named "Electronic Device."

It's on the strength of that patent, according to FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller, that Apple (AAPL) on Friday asked the U.S. government to ban Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1.

I snapped a photo and sent it to Mueller.

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