Did Apple's Claims Over Rectangles And Corners Lead To 'The First Smartphone Designed Entirely By Lawyers'?

from the seems-that-way dept

Android blogger Ron Amadeo has a great post over at Android Police where he tries to explain the design of the new Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, which many people have deemed pretty hideous. In his opinion, it all comes down to legal tiptoeing.

As you may recall, last year Apple sued Samsung over earlier products in the Galaxy line, claiming infringement of all sorts of different rights, among them some broad trade dress registrations involving basic design choices like black borders and rectangles with rounded corners. Amadeo walks through the many notable aesthetic elements of the S3 (including the stark changes from previous Galaxy phones) and compares them to Apple’s list of trade dress claims, noting how several aspects of the phone seem designed to counter specific complaints—and the case he makes is pretty compelling. These are just a few examples (bolded portions are quotes from the Apple trade dress complaint):

A rectangular product shape…
… A rectangle needs to have parallel sides; the GSIII sides aren’t straight at all. The outmost part is about 1/3rd of the way down, with serious curves leading to the top and bottom. So it’s very much not a rectangle, or a rounded rectangle, or even horizontally symmetrical. It’s more of an amorphous blob.

…with all four corners uniformly rounded;
Nope. The top and bottom corners are not the same shape. Observe the outlines of the top-left and bottom-left corners. Note how they are different.

The front surface of the product dominated by a screen surface with black borders
Having a giant screen on the front is kind of unavoidable. The only colors available though, are white and dark blue. Neither of those colors are black. The lawyers can sleep easy.

Substantial black borders above and below the screen having roughly equal width
Apple’s use of “roughly” is really obnoxious, but just in case they get into minutia (lawyers love minutia!), the top and bottom borders are not the same size. These to-scale measurements show the top bezel is about 16% smaller than the bottom. Also, they’re not black!

In the past, some people have argued that this sort of thing is an example of intellectual property doing its job and encouraging innovation, because competitors come up with new and different ways of doing things—but, as we have pointed out, the innovation being encouraged is the wrong kind. Instead of letting market demands dictate what engineers and designers spend their time on, their effort is wasted reinventing the wheel over and over again. The result is often an inferior product that lacks overall vision, as some are saying about the S3, at least aesthetically speaking. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, what’s a horse designed by a committee of lawyers? Some horrific Darwinian accident from the deep ocean, I’d wager.

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Companies: apple, samsung

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Comments on “Did Apple's Claims Over Rectangles And Corners Lead To 'The First Smartphone Designed Entirely By Lawyers'?”

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51 Comments
gorehound (profile) says:

At the rate things are going Patent Issues might just be a Non-Issue.I do not have an optimistic view of the future.Hope this Nation does not collapse into something really bad within 1 -3 elections.
In better times I would be saying to abolish these kinds of innovation killing Patents.If there was a Country you could move to and develope your Patenes I would almost say to do it anyway and to hell with the greedy suing World.A lot of these Patents are nothing but a piece of shit and they get granted by an equally unintelligent corrupted Patents Bureau.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just to clarify, these aren’t standard patents. It’s registered trade dress – it functions more like trademark (and is part of the same act that governs trademark – not associated with patents/copyright) – so there has to be some sort of possibility of confusion.

Now, some of Apple’s trade dress claims are still insanely broad and cover what seem to be basic, elemental design aspects rather than unique identifiers of Apple products – and that’s still highly problematic. But it’s not as insane as if they had a genuine patent on this stuff. (Of course, there are plenty of patent lawsuits between Apple and Samsung too, many of them nearly as dumb)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

For the sake of accuracy, two points should be noted.

First, design patents, which relate to industrial designs, are provided for in Chapter 16 to Title 35, the Title that recites US law for various classes of patents. This Title is completely separate for trademark law, which law is set forth in Chapter 22 to Title 15.

Second, there is, as you note, a very close relationship between the tests for trademark infringement and design patent infringement, the tests each being based upon the “likelihood of confusion to an ordinary observer”.

The article linked above obssesses over individual design features, what courts in the past have often described as the “point(s) of novelty”. This is, however, not the test for analyzing design patent infringement.

While mine is purely a subjective opinion, I have a very difficult time believing that an ordinary observer interested in purchasing a phone would likely believe he/she was purchasing an iPhone instead of a Galaxy S III.

Now, much is being made of the Samsung phone being designed by lawyers. While it is highly probable that Samsung did show various proposed designs to its lawyers to secure legal opinions in order to ascertain potential legal risks, to state that the Samsung phone was designed by lawyers is just plain silly since that is not a role assigned to lawyers.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

First, design patents, which relate to industrial designs, are provided for in Chapter 16 to Title 35, the Title that recites US law for various classes of patents. This Title is completely separate for trademark law, which law is set forth in Chapter 22 to Title 15.

I was under the impression that the particular complaint being dissected here was based on trade dress, from Title 15, not design patents. But I could be wrong about that.

Either way I agree that the claims seem a bit ridiculous. As for the notion of the phone being ‘designed by lawyers’, I think it’s clear that’s an expression, not a suggestion that they actually put the lawyers to work at the drawing board…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

There are a slew of lawsuits involving various types of patents. I limited my comment to only design patents because it was clear to me that the author of the linked article was focused on just industrial design issues, and Apple has numerous patents associated with the iPhone design.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

There are a slew of lawsuits involving various types of patents. I limited my comment to only design patents because it was clear to me that the author of the linked article was focused on just industrial design issues, and Apple has numerous patents associated with the iPhone design.

Okay… but the linked article explains that it’s talking about a trade dress complaint, not a design patent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Thank you for pointing this out. It took a bit of digging, but I was able to find an original complaint filed in the US by Apple against Samsung. Like any lawsuit of this type, the complaint alleges infringements of several classes of legal “things” (I try to avoid using the term ‘IP’ because I find it to be singularly unhelpful for one to understand what these ‘things’ each comprise), i.e., utility patents, design patents, federal registrations of trade dress, unfair competition, etc. While I remembered that several design patents were in play, I had forgotten that trade dress was also being asserted.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Now, much is being made of the Samsung phone being designed by lawyers. While it is highly probable that Samsung did show various proposed designs to its lawyers to secure legal opinions in order to ascertain potential legal risks, to state that the Samsung phone was designed by lawyers is just plain silly since that is not a role assigned to lawyers.

Don’t worry guys, the above AC is an IP lawyer, and is merely respecting the fact that people have patents on certain turns of phrases, so he refuses to understand basic expressions and humor for the sake of not violating anyone’s patents.

MD says:

Patentable Stuff?

I’ve never understood what qualifies as patenable. For example, Larry Niven, in “The Integral Trees” in 1984, describes a ship controlled by finger gestures on a flatscreen display – pinch two fingers together while touching the door on the diagram, and the door closes.

With that sort of “prior art” description, why would finger gestures of any sort be patentable???

MD says:

Patentable Stuff?

I’ve never understood what qualifies as patentable. For example, Larry Niven, in “The Integral Trees” in 1984, describes a ship controlled by finger gestures on a flatscreen display – pinch two fingers together while touching the door on the diagram, and the door closes.

With that sort of “prior art” description, why would finger gestures of any sort be patentable???

Anonymous Coward says:

To be honest i think the lawyers have made a beautiful designed phone, it looks unique and far far better then the sharp edged iphone. I hope they have patented this shape so that apple cannot use a rounded edge on there phones. Looks amazing and once the price drops bellow $150 i will have one, definitely. Might have to wait a year or so for that price drop though.

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