Apple's Argument: Samsung Could Have Made Its Phone Large, Thick, Bumpy, Sharp-Edged & Hexagonal

from the sounds-great dept

A few months ago, we noted that Samsung's new phones had rather odd designs... and the theory making the rounds was that, considering the ongoing worldwide fight it was in with Apple, it was trying to go out of its way to make the phones as un-Apple-like as possible. Of course, that resulted in ugly, weirdly shaped phones.

As you may (hopefully?) know, some of the patents in the fight are "design patents" rather than utility patents. When people talk about patents, they usually are referring to utility patents. Design patents are, in many ways, more similar to trademarks than to utility patents. But it creates odd situations where Apple gets to claim "ownership" of the concept of a rectangular device with rounded corners. It's also important to remember that design patents can't be for functional features, but only for design/appearance. That means that Apple has to insist that the basic design of the iPhone and iPad aren't functional at all.

As Matt Schruers highlights, that means that Apple is left in the awkward position of insisting that these basic concepts that are sort of obvious design choices to make such devices functional both aren't functional at all and that there are perfectly reasonable alternatives. For example, Apple's lawyers have suggested some "alternatives" in how Samsung could have designed its devices:
“front surfaces that are not rectangular, not flat, and without rounded corners; display screens that are more square than rectangular or not rectangular at all, display screens that are not centered on the front surface of the phone...”


“overall shapes that are not rectangular with four flat sides or that do not have four rounded corners; front surfaces that are not completely flat or clear... and profiles that are not thin”.
So what would that mean? Schruers explains:
Of course. Surely consumers would happily hold a large, thick, bumpy, sharp-edged hexagonal thing up to their head. They’ll no doubt appreciate the different “ornamental” approach while reading through their opaque screen. No functional drawbacks there.

Does that even sound like an object you would willingly put in your pants? Having a device that is not an unwieldy weapon-like object is a functional feature, not an ornamental design choice. One is not going out on a limb in concluding that if the object design increases your likelihood of getting strip-searched at the airport, those are functional drawbacks, and foreclosing functional features is not the purpose of design protection.
Oh yeah, Schruers also includes this bit of prior art to emphasize his point:

Filed Under: design patents, iphone, patents, shape, smartphones
Companies: apple, samsung

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  1. identicon
    Simon, 6 Aug 2012 @ 7:46am

    Why Apple have gone all-in on the legal options

    Business Insider published an interesting take on where Apple's profits come from, and report nearly two thirds are down to the iPhone.

    It's a tough act to follow, and for Apple, nothing short of stunning sales for a new product line would be considered a failure.

    As smartphones reach commodity status it's increasingly hard to deliver new features that push new models to existing owners. This is exacerbated by the carriers trying to lengthen the upgrade cycle.

    Like so many large and successful companies before them, we now see Apple taking any measure they can to protect their cash cow, rather than innovating on to the next thing.

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