You’d think Apple had claimed ownership of Dokdo or something!
In reality Apple is claiming all manner of trade practice, trademark and patent infringements (16 in all) by Samsung.
I have said previously that Samsung has made a practice of making pretty good (cheaper, sometimes slightly more innovative) knockoffs of other company’s products. It seems here that Apple also has that idea in mind and thinks it has the proof to back it up. So much so that when speaking of the Galaxy S and the TouchWiz UI Apple has reportedly said “The copying is so pervasive, that [they] appear to be actual Apple products.”
Not quite trademark, not quite copyright, Apple’s first set of claims against Sammy are to do with “trade dress”. Trade dress refers to iconic names and, in this case, shapes and design elements that consumers recognise as being particular to that company. Apple is pretty anal-retentive proud of its design aesthetic and you could argue you can recognise an Apple product by its smooth lines and curves and whatnot. Over and above, the Apple logo and the term “iPhone,” the shape and design of the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad are all distinctive and all purely “Apple”.
Apple is claiming Samsung, has been ripping off this aesthetic. In particular:
- 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.
That sounds like every phone and tablet made in the last two years… But then again…
[Image: This is my next]
Apple has already registered some of these with the US Patent office (who have accepted them) and so Samsung will need to defend these claims. (cf. U.S. Registration No. 3,470,983 , U.S. Registration No. 3,457,218 and U.S. Registration No. 3,475,327 )
Where Samsung is arguably going to have a rough time is when it comes to icons – all of which Apple has registered as trademarks. There is a certain similarity here that might get Sammy in a bit of trouble…
I’m not necessarily batting for either side, but it’s worth noting that regarding Apple’s claims when it comes to the Phone icon, Settings, Notes, Contacts and Music and even the Gallery icon, all of the icons except the Messaging one look pretty similar to me. Even the TouchWiz Gallery icon with the close-up of yellow petals is evocative of iOS’s sunflower.
If I were a judge, or on a jury, I would have some issues here. On one side you could easily say that Samsung has essentially copied Apple’s work. On the other, hand they are not exactly the same and are there elements of just common sense and standards here? A phone icon has… well… a picture of a phone on it. The proverbial cog has long been associated with settings and you would think it logical that you take “notes” in an app represented by a notepad.
I mean go figure!?
So these are all elements of trade dress and relate to the relationship between the aesthetic of a product (how it looks, etc.) and the customer. (Could the customer reasonably be confused and think Apple is making Galaxy S Phones?). [Image: This is my next]
These claims and some catch-all and state-level law infringement claims make up the bulk of Apple’s case. However there are also accusations of design infringements.
Again, Apple has applied for and been granted patents for these designs, and so is well within its rights to be defending its designs. But again one has to ask, are these really designs, or are they conventions that are apparent in phones and tablets across the board.
Apple claims that Samsung is infringing upon 10 of its design patents, encompassing both hardware and software.
Patent #D627,790: Graphical User Interface For a Display Screen or Portion Thereof. This is the iOS home screen — the grid of icons.
Patent #D602,016: Electronic Device. This is the iPhone 3G / 3GS design. The broken lines that form the screen and the button aren’t part of the patent, just the device’s shell, so any button or screen size differences on Samsung’s devices don’t matter.
Patent #D618,677: Electronic Device. This is the opposite of ’677 — it’s the screen and button design of the iPhone. The broken lines that form the case in the patent application images below aren’t part of the patent.
[Image: Google Patents]
Above its noted that the iPhone buttons aren’t part of the patents listed. That’s because they have their own patents – including Patent #7,863,533 which deals with the multiple functions of the volume buttons (in this case on the 3GS:
[Image: Google Patents]
Software patents include Method and Apparatus For Displaying Information During An Instant Messaging Session, Ellipse Fitting For Multi-Touch Surfaces, Application programming interfaces for scrolling operations, (This is a neat one where the software decides whether you are using one finger or two to scroll and what action the phone should take) and Method and apparatus for displaying a window for a user interface.
All pretty boring stuff and I can’t help but think, given the ubiquity of these technologies, that these are all pretty common sense and inherent to the modern phone paradigm, regardless of whether Apple has a patent awarded to them for these or not.
Now bare in mind that this is not the only law suit Apple has open at the moment. Indeed they are also suing Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC (Makers of the Nexus One and purveyors of the Sense UI for Android) and Motorola, makers of various other Android handsets. (and then there are a number of other similar law suits going on in the space as well – Motorola V. Microsoft, Microsoft V. Barnes and Nobel etc etc).
Also bare in mind that while all of this is going on, Samsung (while it is counter-suing) continues to manufacturer and supply Apple with A4 and A5 chips – i.e. the guts of the iPhone and iPad as well as Flash SSDs going into every new MacBook Air.
Which probably means everything will probably work out about even in the end. GigaOm has a good piece on the balancing act between the two companies, with Apple being Samsung’s biggest customer (alone contributing about 4% to Samsung’s $142Billion revenue)
Since the suit was filed last week Samsung has come out all guns blazing even citing this cozy relationship between the two companies as a possible vector for Apple to have stolen some of Samsung’s Interllectual property.
“We think Apple has violated our patents in communications standards,” Chung Jae-woong, a spokesman at Samsung Electronics, said by phone. “We are considering a counterclaim.”
But if Samsung’s own denials and counter claims weren’t enough, then out came the hacks at The Korea Times
Lawsuit Displays Apple’s Sense of Urgency
Is Apple feeling threatened by Samsung Electronics’ advances into the market of the latest “smart” devices?
Apple’s sweeping patent lawsuit the Korean electronics behemoth comes at a time when Samsung is going toe to toe, head to head with Apple in the entire range of products.
(Kim Yoo Chul in The Korea Times)
It goes on:
“That lawsuit is good evidence that shows Apple’s sense of urgency about Samsung, said Prof. Lee Jong-su, a media critic at Hanyang University.
Samsung’s Galaxy S is the only smartphone that has exceeded 10 million in unit sales, besides iPhone.
Apple’s lawsuit came only a week before the scheduled unveiling of Galaxy S II.
At the same time, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab tablet computer is often dubbed as the only alternative to iPad.
“Samsung is a fast learner. Its Tab 2 design shows it, Lee said.
The article goes on confusingly drawing Google and Android into the debate while finishing off with the same point I make above, namely that in the long run the aim of both companies is probably to make out OK in the end because it does no one any good to be tied up in court when you could be making bajillions of dollars together.
Meanwhile The JoongAng Daily calls it “War” noting “Fight comes as Korean company grabs smartphone, tablet PC sales”
Yet the JoongAng comes to the same conclusion more-or-less:
Industry experts said that it will be hard for Apple to part ways with Samsung as a supplier because Toshiba’s production of NAND flash memory has suffered a setback as a result of the recent earthquake in Japan, while Samsung is the world’s No. 1 NAND flash memory producer.
Both companies have no alternative but to get on with each other, mutually assured destruction is just not an option.
The Atlantic has some interesting ideas on why Apple should shut up and not sue Samsung.
But the ferocity with which the Korean media has come out in portraying Apple as attacking its poor, fledgling home grown enterprise embodied by Samsung is a bit much, and is of the Nationalist bent usually reserved for the likes of Japan and DokkDo. (We obviously can’t pick on Japan at the moment though, can we.) Its not like Samsung needs the help and stands to be burned by the domestic Korean media if papers like the MaeIl Kyongjae start to join in the whining and complaining.
But you see, in the minds of many (and not just we flippant foreigners) Korea is Samsung is Korea. The miracle of the Han happened on the back of companies like Samsung just like the Korean Wave is riding along on the back of Samsung laptops, phones and MP3 players.
As for the legal matters, you can guarantee this will be settled outside of court. My bet is that Apple will buy off Samsung with promises of more component orders in the years to come in return for being able to keep its aluminum ringed, curved edge aesthetic and Samsung coming out with significant changes to TouchWiz and moving away from the curves and beveled edges in its handsets.
You can read the Stafford’s original post here.