Yesterday, in the patent-war equivalent of START I, Samsung and Apple agreed to lay down some of their arms and reduce the amount of infringement claims each party had against the other.
Despite this ‘arms reduction’ the court case will likely proceed with a certain tenacity on Apple’s part, as the company has been recently dealing with the blow of loosing the title of smartphone hegemon.
To the untrained eye, Samsung’s line of tablets and phones are similar to Apple’s only insofar that they both use the touch-screen paradigm that was brought to popularity with the launch of the iPhone in 2007. However, to the battalion of patent lawyers under the employ of Apple, this very existence of this visual similarity – called trade dress in legalese – is grounds for legal action (for a fun read you can examine the US Code that defines it here).
Apple first filed against Samsung in April 2011. Here is what Apple claims is proprietary:
Hardware and Software Trade Dress
- A rectangular product shape with all four corners uniformly rounded;
- The front surface of the product dominated by a screen surface with black borders;
- As to the iPhone and iPod touch products, substantial black borders above and below the screen having roughly equal width and narrower black borders on either side of the screen having roughly equal width;
- As to the iPad product, substantial black borders on all sides being roughly equal in width;
- A metallic surround framing the perimeter of the top surface;
- A display of a grid of colorful square icons with uniformly rounded corners; and
- A bottom row of square icons (the “Springboard”) set off from the other icons and that do not change as the other pages of the user interface are viewed.
Packaging Trade Dress
- A rectangular box with minimal metallic silver lettering and a large front-viewpicture of the product prominently on the top surface of the box;
- A two-piece box wherein the bottom piece is completely nested in the top piece; and
- Use of a tray that cradles products to make them immediately visible upon opening the box.
If one were to compare and contrast pictures of an Apple tablet and smartphone versus a Samsung tablet and smartphone, one would see, rightly or wrongly, that Samsung is infringing on what Apple believes is its proprietary design.
While Samsung is disputing these claims in court and countersuing Apple with its own set of claims, an analysis of the design of their new phone – the Samsung Galaxy SIII – and move towards a unique form factor with the Galaxy Note shows what is perhaps subtle acknowledgement of the legitimacy of Apple’s claims.
In an excellent piece on Android Police, Ron Amadeo demonstrates that Samsung’s lawyers may have substantially revised the design of the Samsung Galaxy SIII. The phone lacks, for instance, “a display of a grid of colorful square icons with uniformly rounded corners,” and an app springboard that is found on iOS devices and older Samsung Galaxy phones.
Further, the black borders above and below the phone’s screen are not of the same width.
Mr. Amadeo from Android Police counted the pixels on the top and bottom, and reports that they are 48px, and 57px, respectively.
While it is likely that the courts will eventually loose their tolerance for Apple’s hegemonic patent warfare, this case does set a frightening precedent for intellectual property development within the United States: companies are no longer able to be inspired by an idea, improve upon it, then bring the idea to market and reap the rewards.
If the case is eventually ruled in Apple’s favor, the precedent is frightening. What will happen to competition within the technology sector?