Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Prior Art in the iPad - from 1968

Okay, here's something cool that I never noticed before.

If you follow the Tablet Wars at all, you might have read that Apple is suing Samsung, claiming that Samsung is violating Apple's Intellectual Property.

What I didn't realize until I read this article, is that of the four patents that Apple is claiming Samsung is stealing from, three of them are DESIGN PATENTS.

What is a design patent?  It's not an invention, like this (I actually have a patent.  I hardly ever get to mention it.  Yes, I'm bragging.  I seldom get a chance to brag.  This is probably my only chance this year.  Forgive me.).  A design patent is a protection for the look of something.  You can get a design patent for a piece of art, or the styling of a jukebox:

Not an iPad.

My jukebox has this design patent.  It shows the styling of the jukebox so that other manufacturers will not copy the design, taking away from the (I hate the term, but) look and feel of the original. 

So what Apple did was to make a design patent for the iPad that shows a thin rectangular pad with a large screen, narrow borders and a flat back.  And they are claiming that Samsung (and anyone else daring to make a tablet without paying them royalties) is stealing those design elements, taking away from the art that is their iPad.

So what is Samsung saying?  Obviously, just about any tablet is like any other tablet.  So it's hard to argue that "Gee, our tablet is entirely different, even though it looks pretty much the same."

What Samsung is arguing is that the iPad design is not original.  They are saying that other people came up with the design elements (rectangular tablet, big screen, narrow borders, flat back) before Apple came up with it.  If Samsung can convince a judge that this prior art is sufficiently similar to what Apple is claiming, they can then argue that this design was not original enough to deserve a patent, and that Samsung can make all the flat big-screened narrow-bordered flat-backed tablets that they want.  In fact anyone who wants to can.

So where did Samsung find this prior art?  In Stanley Kubrik's (and Arthur C. Clarke's) 2001: A Space Odyssey!  And they have submitted this image:

Look!  There's Dave and that other guy (the one who gets killed, and nobody remembers his name because it wasn't Dave as in "Open the pod bay doors HAL" "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that.").  They are both using tablet devices while they eat their astronaut food!  Look! Those devices are rectangular.  They have big screens.  They have narrow borders.  They have flat backs (because they are sitting flat against the table).

Ya.  This just got interesting.  I can't wait to see what Apple argues back, and what the court decides.  A 43 year old design that looks just like my iPad.

Oh, and - Frank.  His name was Frank.  And he was killed by own beloved UIUC alumnus HAL 9000.

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