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  (Source: Apple)
The Ultrabook category could potentially be killed off or diminished by Apple lawsuits

[Update: Apple's patent appears invalid due to prior art -- Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) released a teardrop laptop in 2004, the Sony VAIO X505.]

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has brought chaos to the smartphone market, with a slew of lawsuits which essentially seek to ban all of its top smartphone competitors products.  According to Apple, all of its competitors are ripping off its technology.

Now Apple may be preparing to bring that same brand of litigious chaos to the world of personal computer, thanks to its victory in convinced the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to allow it to patent the design of its MacBook Air (MBA) case.  Apple was granted U.S. Design Patent D661,296 this week.

I. Nearly Every Ultrabook is in Violation

Very clever in its working, Apple's new intellectual property jewel is carefully crafted to place nearly every one of its competitors designs in violation, via making its claim very general and wide.

The patent covers claims exclusive ownership to thin teardrop/wedge-shaped notebook computers.  At first glance many of its competitors Ultrabooks would appear to be in violation of this patent.  In other words, with this patent, Apple appears to be well along the way to having the legal firepower necessary to obtain a ban all competitors lightweight laptops.

Among them:

Samsung's Series 5 Ultrabook Convertible

Samsung Series 5

ASUSTek Computer Inc.'s (TPE:2357) Transformer Book

Acer, Inc.'s (TPE:2353) Aspire S7 Series

Acer Aspire S7
[Image Source: Pocket Lint]

Hewlet Packard Comp.'s (HPQ) Spectre XT
Spectre XT black
Dell, Inc. (DELL) XPS 13

II. Patenting Fundamental Physics 

There's a reason why all of these laptops are teardrop and/or wedge shaped.  Given the size of USB ports and the size necessary for the hinge, there's no real other possible design that would allow these laptops to achieve the kind of thiness and light weight that the Ultrabook spec demands.

Now one thought might be that the USPTO merely granted Apple a narrow patent on its MacBook Air design.  But Apple's patent makes it explicitly clear that it's claiming a very wide exclusive rights to produce thin, wedge shaped laptops.  It says that size, hinge design, etc. are irrelevant.  It says that the back can have "any contour or shape" and still infringe.

Apple patent
Apple's patent is very tricking in its claim, designed to place nearly every ultrabook design on the market in infringement. [Image Source: USPTO via The Verge]

In other words, if the USPTO read the patent, they had to have recognized exactly how wide a design ownership they were granting Apple.

III. What's Next?

A couple important things to bear in mind.  Apple hasn't sued anybody -- yet.  But it now has the ammo to do so, and could potentially gain a monopoly on ultrathin notebooks, if it chooses to pursue lawsuits against all of its computer making rivals.  HP has already pledged to defend its design against potential litigation.

Apple could be fearful of the damage to its reputation that requesting a ban on all rival Ultrabook designs might have.  But it has shown little such fears in the smartphone market, so image may not be enough to convince Apple to avoid seeking bans.

Likewise, fundamental physics (hinge design) and universal standards (USB port size) seem to dictate no way around Apple's design, hence the patent seems highly questionable.  But for better or worse the USPTO has decided that Apple should have it.

No one is questioning that Apple pioneered the Ultrathin category with its MacBook Air.  While Dell's Envy launched not long after, it featured a more traditional flat design and hence was more constrained in size, weight, and specs.  But the question is whether Apple gets to have a monopoly because it got their first and because the laws of physics (and standards) dictate few alternatives.  That may be an issue that is pressed in court, if Apple's swelling legal team and history of looking to litigate rather than compete are any indication.

Update 1 June 7, 2012:

Well if Apple does sue anyone, it will have a tough case to make.  Get a load of Sony's VAIO X505 launched in 2004.  Turns out Apple wasn't even the first to pioneer this market -- Sony was the first (to our knowledge) ultrathin maker.

Sony's design clearly is in violation of Apple's patent -- but it came first.  That means Apple's appears highly likely to invalid.  In a sense, its wideness -- a gambit to ensure everyone infringes, may prove its downfall.

Sony Vaio X505
[Image Source: Notebook Review]
Sony Vaio X505
[Image Source: Image Shack]

It should be interesting to see how this plays out, if this goes to court.

Source: USPTO via SBNation [PDF]

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Patent Office
By MethylONE on 6/7/2012 2:45:06 PM , Rating: 5
Our Patent system is a joke. Something has to change.

RE: Patent Office
By Reclaimer77 on 6/7/2012 2:57:34 PM , Rating: 4
Who the FUCK are these people reading these patents and granting them? That's what I want to know. Who are they, what are their names, where do they live, and why do they still have jobs? I want their finances probed, because someone is clearly being bribed here. And if not bribed, they are literally too stupid to hold a job!

RE: Patent Office
By RicheemxX on 6/7/2012 3:07:24 PM , Rating: 5
My understanding is that the idiots at the patent office grant patents they know are questionable and likely not valid and figure it is up to the court system to decide on them. I don't think they research design characteristics, functionality or anything else. They only check to see if there is a prior patent, wait for anyone to challenge the patent and if not then finally issue said patent.

The entire system is bass-ackwards and completely broke!

As mentioned this is totally invalid since sony had prior art, I even think their were laptops with these designs prior to that one from sony. But its going to be up to a judge to invalidate the patent.

RE: Patent Office
By nafhan on 6/7/2012 3:13:22 PM , Rating: 3
If this is what's going on, patenting every f-ing thing you possibly can in order to bleed your competitors dry in court, could be a valid business strategy for a company with lots of money and no real plan on what to do with it.

I'm looking forward to seeing someone explain how this is good for the consumer.

RE: Patent Office
By joex444 on 6/7/2012 3:39:07 PM , Rating: 2
There are, in fact, companies that basically do this. They're called "patent trolls."

RE: Patent Office
By JasonMick on 6/7/2012 4:20:11 PM , Rating: 5
There are, in fact, companies that basically do this. They're called "patent trolls."
It's looking a lot like Apple is joining this crowd.

Its basic argument is that it can't compete so it files for a ridiculous number of patents and trademarks, many of which are on things that shouldn't be patentable or trademarkable (like icons, or slide to unlock) or that were already on the market and/or patented (e.g. data tapping, slide to unlock, touch screen designs, wedge laptop designs, etc.).

It's a productive troll, but it's a troll nonetheless by its actions, arguably.

It's sad because the iPhone 4S is a very solid little phone. It's way to small for my taste, but I could see a girl with smaller fingers find it great. Granted the interface looks ancient and dated compared to Android ICS, and Windows Phone (esp.), but Apple could still compete on the merits of the case design, large app catalog, and strong core apps.

The iPad is still one of the best tablets out there.

But when Apple refuses to compete and instead opts to sue people, anyone who appreciates free choice in the market, will likely have a tough time convincing themselves to buy an iPad and iPhone. Apple could be a competitor with its relatively solid products -- instead it chooses to be a troll.

It doesn't need to sue people -- it's the world's most profitable company. But I fear greed is turning Apple into the mother of all patent trolls, slowly but surely.

RE: Patent Office
By WalksTheWalk on 6/7/2012 5:31:01 PM , Rating: 4
Yes, Apple doesn't need to do this. They are in a strong position and making record profits. This smacks of fear to me.

I think the absolute fear of what happened with Microsoft and Windows in the 80's and 90's via open licensing to third parties is burned into their DNA at this point.

RE: Patent Office
By testerguy on 6/8/12, Rating: -1
RE: Patent Office
By Cheesew1z69 on 6/8/2012 8:26:18 AM , Rating: 1
If they had ACTUALLY invented it. Nothing more to say. Get your head out of your ass, seriously.

RE: Patent Office
By Cheesew1z69 on 6/8/2012 8:28:39 AM , Rating: 1
you need to seriously realise how much of a biased idiot you sound.
You are the last one who needs to talk about being a biased idiot. Try taking your own advice. Douchebag.

RE: Patent Office
By retrospooty on 6/8/2012 11:35:19 AM , Rating: 2
LOL... So True. If ever there was a more fitting pot v kettle cliche than this guy.

[Testerguy] I am not biased at all. I just created an ID at AT/DT for the sole purpose to defend every move Apple makes and every product they release. I do this because Apple is superior in all ways and its products are better than the competition in all ways and everyone should know this. As you can clearly see, its not a bias it just has to be done.

RE: Patent Office
By WalksTheWalk on 6/8/2012 12:16:21 PM , Rating: 2
The thing is Apple is competing very, very well with their products versus the Ultrabooks, Android, whatever.

The fact that they are doing this is just more evidence of pure patent trolling and anti-competitive behavior, using their dollar power.

I can understand that they would want to file these kinds of ridiculous patents to protect themselves legally, since the US patent system is broken, but to start suing for product embargoes and blocking free trade of reasonable competitors is absurd.

RE: Patent Office
By Tony Swash on 6/8/12, Rating: -1
RE: Patent Office
By themaster08 on 6/8/2012 2:04:18 PM , Rating: 3
You'd better find that time machine and warn Sony that they're infringing on Apple's design patents that will come years later.

The problem isn't "copying". The problem is Apple's frivolous, generic patents of simple shapes that have oodles of prior art.

The reason they're not patented by other companies before Apple is likely due to the fact that other companies don't see such basic shapes as patent worthy. Apple patenting first != first to design.

RE: Patent Office
By Cheesew1z69 on 6/8/2012 8:11:48 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is Apple's frivolous, generic patents of simple shapes that have oodles of prior art.
You will never get Tony DoucheBag to understand this.

RE: Patent Office
By tim851 on 6/9/2012 6:53:41 AM , Rating: 2
Granted the interface looks ancient and dated compared to Android ICS, and Windows Phone (esp.)

I have a Galaxy Nexus. And love it. I'm not an iOS fanatic - but how the hell does iOS look "ancient and dated"?

Android looks pretty much the same, with some widgets thrown in (+) but a less streamlined (-) and less consistent (-) interface.

WP7's live tiles look ancient. They are just huge blocky icons. The horizontal, font-driven layout of WP7 is interesting, but for everything that looks better than iOS/Android, another looks or works worse.

I can understand the growing despise against Apple and their lawsuit shenanigans. Although I also understand Apple's stance against some of the more blatant rip-offs. Like the Galaxy Tab, that started it all. Samsung makes brilliant devices more often than not, but they are not above just outright ripping off stuff every now and then.
But this is life and this is the IT industry. Everybody's always copied from others. Including Apple.

RE: Patent Office
By Cheesew1z69 on 6/9/2012 10:30:57 AM , Rating: 2
If it actually had been "blatantly" ripped off. The big SAMSUNG on the front was pretty obvious to anyone who isn't blind.

RE: Patent Office
By tunzer on 6/12/2012 5:17:55 AM , Rating: 2
Pinky: Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?
Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky - try to take over the world!

RE: Patent Office
By kjboughton on 6/7/2012 5:14:36 PM , Rating: 2
You just described Rambus' business model to a 'T'.

RE: Patent Office
By MozeeToby on 6/7/2012 3:25:52 PM , Rating: 5
My understanding is that the idiots at the patent office grant patents they know are questionable and likely not valid and figure it is up to the court system to decide on them. I don't think they research design characteristics, functionality or anything else. They only check to see if there is a prior patent, wait for anyone to challenge the patent and if not then finally issue said patent.
This is true by my understanding as well. It wasn't always this way, but the patent office was, at one point, decades behind in their work load and the policies were changes to allow the patent officers to get through the pile much faster than would have otherwise been possible. The problem is... well, this. Bad patents mean stupid, expensive court cases for things that never should have been granted in the first place. Not to mention the fact that the courts haven't seemed to have caught up with the change in policies; they just assume the patents are largely valid.

RE: Patent Office
By joex444 on 6/7/2012 3:41:19 PM , Rating: 4
This is essentially how it works.

Fact is if they accept a patent, there is a fee paid. If they reject it, lesser fee. From the patent office point of view they get money on patents they can accept. This leads to loose standards; they patent many things that they know would not stand up in court because they can't find anyone who owns said patent.

They should just raise the fees, and demand a narrower focus on the patent. Anyone got a patent on compounds or molecules, BTW?

RE: Patent Office
By mastard on 6/7/2012 6:52:01 PM , Rating: 2
I have a patent on some molecules and it works pretty much the same way. Who ever files first gets the patent no one checks it or anything they didn't even ask for copies of my notebook pages to show that I had really done it. The only stipulation is if you have disclosed the invention "molecule" in a public forum you have only one year to file the invention disclosure or you lose the right to patent. Additionally any prior disclosure of the "molecule" before the patent is filed results in the loss of international patent rights.

For the most part the only people who police this stuff are the lawyers at my university who want documentation of when you made the invetion and if it was disclosed in anyway.


RE: Patent Office
By hkscfreak on 6/7/2012 7:13:03 PM , Rating: 3
There are. Those are called prescription drugs.

RE: Patent Office
By socrates1984 on 6/7/2012 4:34:47 PM , Rating: 3
To add a bit to this comment, as of 2011, the US patent system works on a "first to file" basis, not "first to invent". The role of un-patented prior art has been vastly diminished.

A number of large companies (including Microsoft, IBM, Apple) lobbied for this change so they can crush competition using their large legal departments.

Unless Sony successfully filed similar design patents for the X505, Apple's design patent is valid. The courts will sort things out further, but mostly patent law is decided by the size of your legal team/budget, not fairness, rightness, etc.

With the new patent law, business has become much more difficult for smaller companies and individual inventors. The "first to file" law also creates a tremendous incentive for industrial espionage.

For all intents and purposes, the "new and improved" US Patent Office is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Fortune 500. There's an exception here and there for VC-backed companies, but mostly everyone else is shut out.

RE: Patent Office
By tjoynt on 6/7/2012 9:22:33 PM , Rating: 3
From wikipedia:
With the America Invents Act of 2011, which was signed by President Obama on September 16, 2011[7] The law will switch U.S. right to the patent from the present "first-to-invent" system to a "first-to-file" system for patent applications filed on or after March 16, 2013 .

So Apple's patent is not included in the new patent regime.

RE: Patent Office
By marsovac on 6/11/2012 11:32:39 AM , Rating: 2
Wait, what!?

Lets sum up:

The patent system:

- is an office that should work similar to a QA department
- gets paid for not doing its job properly
- as of 2013 will not have to do its job AT ALL

So what is the purpose of this department?

RE: Patent Office
By Brandon Hill on 6/7/2012 3:07:19 PM , Rating: 5
It's time to put a dead horse head in someone's bed.

RE: Patent Office
By Reclaimer77 on 6/7/2012 3:14:05 PM , Rating: 2
lol yes.

Oh for our younger viewers who don't get it:

now that's sending a message!

RE: Patent Office
By The Raven on 6/7/2012 3:30:30 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sure the younger viewers get it...thanks to Harvey Birdman!

RE: Patent Office
By Ammohunt on 6/7/2012 6:37:11 PM , Rating: 2
....they are literally too stupid to hold a job!

You just described every single government worker!

RE: Patent Office
By drwho9437 on 6/10/2012 1:43:26 PM , Rating: 2
I have filed a patent before. Let me take a moment to explain how it works. So I am the inventor. I have what I think is a unique idea. I explain it in a disclosure to a lawyer and I also give that lawyer some idea what the prior art is in that area, both in published works or in this case devices and also in patents.

They take that information and go and do a patent search. After that I comment on if I think that patents are different from my invention. This takes a while. But think of how difficult it is, you have to find out if anyone ever has come up with the same thing as you! It is a nearly impossible task. Even when you know a vast amount about an area there is always the possibility that someone made the thing in some country you don't speak the language of and it never was circulated outside of that area (world patent rights).

So rather than trying to look for prior art in the totality of everything the lawyers have little choice in finite time but to constrain themselves to the patent databases. They actually (if you hire a good firm) appear to do a good job, in my patent they dug out all sorts of stuff I didn't know existed that was related but still different it turned out from what I had created.

Then there is some internal process with your company if you should file. If you do then you write claims on what is unique about your invention, and you write them in a way to make sure no one can just make a small change and take your idea away.

Whew. Okay so companies like Apple patent all their designs. Lens makers patent all their optical formulations. They do this (mostly) as a means of stopping a direct copy at least legally. Now Apple has gone beyond that in the smartphone market which I find repugnant, but that's their right to try.

Should the patent be issued though? Well think about it, the patent officer in the USTPO has the same problem as the lawyer to review the totality of everything to see if you really are first, they can't so they do the best thing they can, see if anyone cares if you have exclusive rights to this idea for a while and look at the patent record to find out.

RE: Patent Office
By geddarkstorm on 6/7/2012 2:53:47 PM , Rating: 2
Just how much money are these patent clerks making under the counter, and how can I get some? Cause seriously, who could ever in their right mind would allow a patent like this when the whole of the laptop industry provides endless prior art; let alone the fact this is basically a patent on modifying rectangular shapes!

I bet there is some literal prior, modern art, that could invalidate this patent.

RE: Patent Office
By FITCamaro on 6/7/12, Rating: -1
RE: Patent Office
By muy on 6/8/2012 12:37:50 AM , Rating: 2
if you mean by 'our patent system" you mean US patents, you are absolutely right.

who are the morons who issue these patents in the US anyway ?

people should be fined (so bad that even apple would be bankrupted) for even trying to patent stuff like this.

what's next ??? patenting electricity as a means to power devices ?

maybe the world should ignore every patent issued in the US.

RE: Patent Office
By robinthakur on 6/8/12, Rating: -1
RE: Patent Office
By Cheesew1z69 on 6/9/2012 10:35:07 AM , Rating: 2
Samsung is certainly no angel in its business dealings and was never going to compete with the iPhone until they pretty much copied it outright and lowered the price.
Pretty much it didn't....

RE: Patent Office
By stresd on 6/9/2012 10:10:10 PM , Rating: 2
still trying to fig out why Apple has not sued all the tv manufacturers for stealing the shape of the Flat screen TVs from them as they are based on the ipad shape arent they?. Wait till they enable touch on big flat screens and all hell will break loose..Apple is really gettig out of hand and are starting to show signs of desperation..perhaps they have no rabbit in there hat for the Iphone 5 and its going to fall flat on its face,,never fear as apple fans will buy it even if its large pile of crap..Testerguy must be a apple employee Im thinking trying to brainwash more of the masses.

By Boze on 6/7/2012 10:21:19 PM , Rating: 5
Frankly, I've watched Apple's patent litigation with aloof amusement, but now I'm at the point where I'm actually offended at their arrogance.

Intel supplies all the chips (and motherboards if I'm not mistaken) for Apple's desktop line. Samsung supplies most of the displays and SOCs for the i-devices. I suggest Intel & Samsung join forces and simply stop selling their products to Apple.

I would even go so far as say break your contracts, pay the penalties for doing so, and watch how fast Apple is brought to heel due to the lack of chip / display manufacturing capacity of their own.

By ritualm on 6/7/2012 11:19:16 PM , Rating: 2
Breaking supply contracts simply because your customer is suing you is akin to cutting off the hand that feeds you.

By Boze on 6/8/2012 4:38:07 AM , Rating: 3
Samsung will be just fine without Apple. So will Intel. Apple's desktop marketshare is pathetic and no one I know of is overly concerned about Thunderbolt, nor should be. USB 4.0 will be out long before Thunderbolt gains any significant market penetration.

By leviathan05 on 6/8/2012 8:44:58 AM , Rating: 3
Seeing as how Intel developed Thunderbolt, it wouldn't be an issue.

By Boze on 6/8/2012 12:07:57 PM , Rating: 2
Except Apple doesn't feed Samsung.

Samsung is massive conglomerate. They make everything from wide-screen displays to washing machines. Would they take a loss of profit? Yeah. Would it be worth it to see Apple come crawling back with their tail between their legs? You're damn well right it would be.

I don't have much love for either company, but I have a lot less for Apple. Americans, traditionally, have been innovators in both design and technology. Apple innovates in design, but sucks balls at doing anything technologically.

Apple occasionally even goes backward (one-button mouse?? what idiot thought that was a good idea).

By ritualm on 6/8/2012 5:08:58 PM , Rating: 2
Samsung makes money selling components to Apple. Apple sells more iPads and iPhones in the market = greater demand for Samsung components = profit.

It also turns out that Samsung is one of the very few companies able to deliver what Apple needs in very large quantities.

You are seeing this too simply. The world does not operate in black and white. You really should start using your head more instead of what is a simple knee-jerk reaction to something unpleasant.

By Boze on 6/8/2012 10:18:20 PM , Rating: 2
Now you're arguing moral philosophy.

In every business class I took at university, moral and ethical responsibility is stressed, even in my marketing classes.

What happens in reality though? Those ethics blurbs get tossed right out the window as soon as most business majors get into the "real" world. Occasionally you'll have someone with some guts who'll actually do the right thing, like Cynthia Cooper (also from my alma mater, Mississippi State University, so I guess our professors are doing something right), who does see the world in black and white and does the right thing.

Apple has been given plenty of chances by plenty of judges to clean up their act. And they aren't the only guilty party when it comes to overly aggressive patent protection on ridiculous patents, either. But they're definitely the most prominent in America right now.

"You are seeing this too simply" are the words of those who are used to backdoor dealings and too much compromise in order to achieve their goals. I'm sure when Nazi officers objected to tossing all those Jews in the oven, their superiors said the exact same thing to them... "Klaus... Klaus... you are zeeeing zees tooooo zimmply..." Yeah... the repeated anthem of someone who lacks moral conviction.

By tecknurd on 6/7/2012 11:36:43 PM , Rating: 1
A kid would choose the cut-n-dry approach by saying to Samsung and Intel, "Drop your contracts with Apple." The adult will choose the shy and aloof approach. It is kind a funny when we are adults, we are too afraid to attempt the cut-n-dry approach to solve a problem. Age sometimes makes us stupid.

I do agree that Samsung and Intel should drop contracts with Apple. This will not happen because Apple is the main consumer of Samsung and Intel products. The cut-n-dry approach will teach Apple a lesson. Apple is a jerk and an pompous ass.

I like Mac OS X, but that is as far as I would go about liking Apple's products.

By Boze on 6/8/2012 4:41:35 AM , Rating: 2
A kid? No, anyone with morals and a ball sack who's tired of being threatened by a company with a culture of arrogance and elitism.

Intel and Samsung could crush Apple like a bug, if they'd just grow a pair and do it. Apple could spend that $100 billion developing their own chips and building its own fabrication plant.

And spending the next five to ten years trying to catch back up to where they currently are. Speaking as an Intel shareholder, I'd rather take a stock loss and see Apple brought to heel for their audacity.

By Targon on 6/8/2012 8:03:19 AM , Rating: 2
If AMD has problems being competitive in the CPU field, then Apple has NO hope of doing it. Apple does not INVENT, they take the inventions of others and put it in a nice package.

The vast majority of things in the iPhone were present in the old Palm devices, but implemented better. Using a finger instead of a stylus when other touch screens already allowed the use of a finger for example is NOT being terribly innovative. Running apps on a mobile device...didn't Palm have that market cornered before the iPhone came out? These are just SOME examples, but it is pretty pathetic how little Apple has really "invented".

I really wish Palm had a decent marketing team/budget, because the Palm Pre, with all its problems, WAS far more innovative. Gesture area to eliminate dedicated home or back buttons for example is far more elegant than the current designs from just about any smartphone maker.

By siberus on 6/8/2012 10:33:04 AM , Rating: 2
If AMD has problems being competitive in the CPU field, then Apple has NO hope of doing it. Apple does not INVENT, they take the inventions of others and put it in a nice package.

Apple could always buy AMD and solve their cash problem. It would probably go a long way towards making them more competitive with intel. Not that i would want them to be the ones to buy AMD.

By ShinySteelRobot on 6/9/2012 6:42:11 AM , Rating: 2
Apple could easily buy Intel. Apple's market capitalization is 4 times Intel's market cap. If they had to, they could do a hostile takeover.

However, it's vanishingly unlikely that either Apple or Intel will go on the offensive against the other.

By Cheesew1z69 on 6/9/2012 4:42:20 PM , Rating: 2
If they had to, they could do a hostile takeover.

By drwho9437 on 6/10/2012 1:51:53 PM , Rating: 2
That is an anti-trust lawsuit in the making... Abuse of effective monopoly power. Better to complete your contract but make them pay retail for parts afterward, no volume discount, it would cripple them in the short term, but from Samsung point of view it would just let another company into the flash business. From Intel's point of view it would lead to more ARM products they fear. Where does Apple use Intel, just laptops... it isn't their largest business...

one addendum to sometimes, "first to file" comment
By sweetca on 6/7/2012 5:09:45 PM , Rating: 2
Patents must be novel and non-obvious to survive attack. If Sony sold thousands of those laptops, then apples design would be both obvious and non-novel, and would this likely fail in court. Patent office can't research everything in existence, they would need tens of thousands of employees, so they wait for a challenge and then grant the patent. If someone missed a challenge, they can sue in court.

Cut the Patent office some slack.

By ritualm on 6/7/2012 5:46:25 PM , Rating: 2
No, it isn't. The US patent system is a disaster, and it urgently needs to be fixed.

By frozentundra123456 on 6/7/2012 5:48:48 PM , Rating: 3
So basically you are saying it is OK not to do your job. Just do a half a**ed job and let someone else sort it out by going to court. Never mind the huge legal expenses and long delays of a possibly important product.

I could understand how something could slip through for some very esoteric or trivial patent that would not really affect anyone. But if the patent official was not smart enough or well trained enough to understand the potential ramifications of this, and make a more responsible decision, he should lose his job.

By sweetca on 6/7/2012 9:34:53 PM , Rating: 2
That is not at all what I said. I question why I am even bothering to respond. I do not mean to appear to be condescending, but some of these arguments are like religious dogma. One’s mind is usually made up, and contrary arguments are dismissed out of hand. Here goes anyway:

Approximately 500,000 patents are filed with just the U.S. Patent office each year ( Some of these patents can number 30 or more pages, which may include some incredibly complex and detailed schematics, formulas, diagrams, etc...

Would you hazard a guess as to how many people would have to work at the patent office to go over each and every one of these patents methodically? We are talking about approximately 1800 patents a day, which number anywhere from 10 to 100 pages on average. And this is not light reading guys. Here is a 21 page patent application for a simple outrigger device (

Do you realize that the patent office would need to hire people who possess a varied amount of highly technical skills, such as computer engineers, chemists, programmers, and other individuals holding highly specialized knowledge to be able to determine the "absolute" merits of a patent?

Then after all this due diligence and exhaustive exploration, the patent examiner would then need to hand it off to an individual versed in foreign patent law to consider the ramifications on a global scale… I don’t even want to get into this.

The patent offices' budget would likely need to be increased 1000 fold to accomplish what many on this board believe their job should accomplish. (Let us not even discuss the resulting political drama that would ensue with cries of out-of-control government spending and over-expansion of the Federal government… Blah Blah)

This entire exercise is both naive and incredibly unrealistic.
The current patent timeline from filing to grant is around 3 years ((
So, unless more resources are committed to the U.S. patent office, this number would likely increase dramatically.

And just ask yourself a simple question
If you were an incredibly talented computer engineer, would you rather proof other people’s inventions all day for 80K a year ( or would you prefer to develop the inventions yourself?

I could go further, but at this point I believe one can see the practical arguments against what many here believe the patent office should and could do.

That is what I was "basically" trying to say.

By frozentundra123456 on 6/7/2012 11:34:40 PM , Rating: 2
I dont see where any "religious dogma" is involved at all. What a totally ridiculous comment. I work in a research setting, and I have read patents. I realize that they can be long and hard to understand. However, I fail to see how one could not give careful consideration to a patent by one of the best known corporations in America, a corporation that has a reputation for trying to use patents to deter legitimate competition. I mean, have they never heard of Apple or ultrabooks?

By sweetca on 6/12/2012 1:20:53 PM , Rating: 2
It was an analogy...

By nafhan on 6/7/2012 3:11:00 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't they already get a design patent on rectangles? Maybe this is the "rectangles, but for laptops instead of tablets!"


RE: Redundant
By geddarkstorm on 6/7/2012 3:13:19 PM , Rating: 2
Rectangles with a slight tapering. Watch out door wedge industry, your days are numbered!

RE: Redundant
By joex444 on 6/7/2012 3:45:10 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, I have a rather large laptop -- Asus G73 17". It, well, portable is a theoretical... I can move it from one area to another but it always requires a desk.

But check out the side on it, definitely tapered from back to front yielding a distinct wedge shape. Asus G73 infringing on an ultrabook patent, pretty amazing.

RE: Redundant
By JasonMick on 6/7/2012 4:14:19 PM , Rating: 4
Actually, I have a rather large laptop -- Asus G73 17". It, well, portable is a theoretical... I can move it from one area to another but it always requires a desk.

But check out the side on it, definitely tapered from back to front yielding a distinct wedge shape. Asus G73 infringing on an ultrabook patent, pretty amazing.
How dare you show off your infringing product infidel.

Doest thou not know that Apple invented the wedge? Yes legend has it, they secretly formed millenia ago, and created it out of simple would, then kept secret as a cult for thousands of years, choosing only to reveal themselves in the late 1970s.

Glory to Jobs! Let the world be showered in magical iPads, iPhones, and MacBook laptops that always work without a single problem ever.

Soon you copycats and patent thieves will learn your folly for shaping your products like Apple's patented shapes -- the wedge and rectangle.

RE: Redundant
By JasonMick on 6/7/2012 6:53:37 PM , Rating: 1
Clearly some Apple fans can't handle sarcasm, hence the mad rush to downvote.

Too late?
By Jeremy87 on 6/7/2012 4:35:50 PM , Rating: 2
Even without prior art, how can it be possible to get a patent after competitors already have violating products on the market?

RE: Too late?
By Lonyo on 6/7/2012 4:59:38 PM , Rating: 2
By applying for it beforehand.

RE: Too late?
By socrates1984 on 6/7/2012 5:14:34 PM , Rating: 1
As of 2011, the US patent system is "first to file", not "first to invent", not "first to market". If a company doesn't file a design patent for a product, a competitor can clone the product and file a design patent. Likely the original product won't be found infringing (though this still depends on the courts and who has the better legal team/larger legal budget/more bought off politicians/judges), but future products from other companies would be.

In order to invalidate a design patent, one would have to show that a company committed IP fraud by filing the design patent with knowledge of the prior art. This is very difficult to do, especially against a large corporation with effectively an infinite legal budget and many politicians/judges in their corner.

As I mentioned in a different post, the new "first to file" system has created enormous incentives for IP fraud and espionage. So we see today a huge number of very broad patent filings and a vast landscape of IP lawsuits. In the future, we will see unprecedented levels of industrial espionage, all due to the rewards that are given to those who are "first to file".

RE: Too late?
By sprockkets on 6/7/2012 5:36:32 PM , Rating: 1
No, you all are all wrong. it is the job of the patent examiners to check for prior art. if they find none they grant it. lately is seems they don't even bother to do their jobs.

RE: Too late?
By muy on 6/8/2012 9:30:21 AM , Rating: 2
can patent bureaus be sewed for granting ridiculous patents ? like for incompetence, negligence etc ?

companies could maybe make a lot of money by sewing those patent bureaus into oblivion or until they get their act together.

a bit like 'the court of xxx has decided that bureau yyy has granted an unlawful patent that let to financial losses for companies a, b, ... , z amounting to a loss of income calculated at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx us $ which is to be payed by company xxx and bureau yyy to companies a-z'

a ruling like that would prevent companies to try and get a patent on something like 'we have a patent on using a form of energy as a way to power devices' and would force the patent bureau to do it's work properly (search for that prior art etc..) or face law suits that are assured to force the patent bureau into bankruptcy.

By chmilz on 6/7/2012 3:17:29 PM , Rating: 2
Apple should patent round wheels. Copying the round design is a violation. You can make square or triangular ones if you want, but round is patented, even if basic physics says that all wheels need to be round.

RE: Wheel
By geddarkstorm on 6/7/2012 3:27:43 PM , Rating: 2
Mythbusters did a special on square wheels. It's possible! At least for a minute, before the vibrations start tearing the vehicle apart. So, maybe you are on to something; let's hope Apple isn't watching!

RE: Wheel
By jimbojimbo on 6/7/2012 7:54:28 PM , Rating: 2
They'll patent a wheel but with rounded edges. Oh wait, that's every rubber tire!!

Grave news!
By smilingcrow on 6/7/2012 3:53:18 PM , Rating: 2
Where is Steve Jobs buried? I want to dig him up and piss in his coffin.

RE: Grave news!
By ritualm on 6/7/2012 5:42:21 PM , Rating: 2
Do it like the kid in Rushmore, kill the brakes on Tim Cook's car and watch the fireworks commence.

RE: Grave news!
By B3an on 6/8/2012 1:00:51 AM , Rating: 2
I'll join you!!

But i'll bring an old chicken tikka curry so i can do a runny shat instead.

Ultrabook my @$$
By Motoman on 6/7/12, Rating: 0
RE: Ultrabook my @$$
By Colin1497 on 6/7/2012 5:07:02 PM , Rating: 2
I had a Portege 2000 in 2002. Leave it to Apple to copy everyone else, remove some features, and convince they world that they invented it.

RE: Ultrabook my @$$
By Solandri on 6/7/2012 5:52:31 PM , Rating: 2
Portege 3440ct and 3480ct. I had one too. It did taper slightly, but not much.

Glad to see Jason updated the article with the Sony X505. The ultrathin form factor and tapered body is not something Apple invented. It's been around for a long, long time. I'm not even sure the X505 is the first tapered laptop. I recall reading a review of a laptop unusual for its back to front tapering when I lived in Boston, which would make it pre-2002.

I've been thinking about it and I don't think Apple intends to win with these lawsuits. I think the intent is to cement in the public's mind that they're the innovator and everyone else is copying. That is, it's just a marketing ploy, rather than a legal ploy. "Why buy an imitation when you can buy the real thing?" It's worked on the fanboys, and I can see it working on the uneducated masses.

RE: Ultrabook my @$$
By kmmatney on 6/7/2012 6:08:20 PM , Rating: 2
The portege 2000 was good for it's time, but is a clunker compared to any MacBook Air.

Go ahead Apple
By Helbore on 6/7/2012 5:15:35 PM , Rating: 4
Go on Apple, start suing ultrabook manufacturers and stop Intel's initiative. Then get to work designing a new Mac line back on the old PowerPC processors, as you can kiss goodbye to your current CPU partnership. I'm sure your userbase won't mind having to repurchase all their apps again.

RE: Go ahead Apple
By ritualm on 6/7/2012 5:55:17 PM , Rating: 2
It won't matter because Apple's customers are like cocaine addicts. They will bitch and whine, sure, but they'll keep buying Apple because they have nowhere else to go to satisfy their addiction to all things magical .

In before Tony Swash and his jive-talk.

By protomech on 6/7/2012 5:19:43 PM , Rating: 2
The patent grant itself cites the X505. I assume the patent examiner looked at the X505, and ruled the Apple design sufficiently distinct to warrant its own design patent.

Note, this means that most or all of the ultrabooks mentioned in the article should be exempt from an Apple patent claim, since they're about as far away from the MBA design as the MBA design is from the X505.

It's time to start bunching panties if Apple starts using this patent to attack any wedge-shaped computer. But it appears (to this layperson) that the patent specifically covers the MBA's 3D profile.

By socrates1984 on 6/7/2012 5:27:56 PM , Rating: 2
There may be no filed design patents for the X505 or the Olidata Altro cited by Apple in the MBA "wedge" patent. Or the language in the older patents, if they exist, didn't specify a "wedge", but a more specific design.

Without a written justification on why Apple was granted such a broad patent, it's all speculation.

Looking at the Altro, it looks quite similar to the MBA's wedge profile:

By KPOM1 on 6/8/2012 2:11:22 PM , Rating: 2
Good point. I think the author may be making a bold claim (for click bait) that isn't justified by the facts. If Apple starts suing ASUS (whose Zenbook looks most like the MacBook Air of any ultrabook) or Samsung (its smartphone and tablet nemesis), we'll know what Apple was up to, but they may also simply be protecting themselves against the "keeping it real fake" knockoffs from China.

Design patent enforcement is a bit tricky. Judges so far have been pretty reasonable on the tablet front. They have issued injunctions against products that look like complete knock-offs at a reasonable distance, but have allowed sales of the devices after modest changes. Samsung added a silver ring around the edge of the Galaxy Tab to get around an Apple design patent in Germany, for instance.

Not defining the hinge or rubber feet is probably just a way to make sure that someone can't release a product that looks exactly like the MacBook Air's case but get around the design patent with a barely noticeable change.

My new paternt
By InternetGeek on 6/7/2012 8:23:30 PM , Rating: 2
Today, I was granted a patent on synapse connections. You all owe me money.

RE: My new paternt
By Justin Time on 6/7/2012 9:27:59 PM , Rating: 4
I don't have any.

Doubt this matter
By seraphim1982 on 6/7/2012 3:18:49 PM , Rating: 2
I work in the industry, with one of the vendors listed in the article. At the moment, I don't think that Apple can trademark an entire platform. The Macbook Air was essentially, the first of Intel's Ultrabooks, as the relationship between Intel & Apple is very good, especially since they co-developed Thunderbolt. On a side note, I found it funny that Apple tried to apply for a patent for Thunderbolt, but then Intel found out and said WTF!?! you aren't doing that and that's why Thunderbolt WILL NOT be an Apple exclusive technology. Although, you won't see Thunderbolts products in PCs till late q3-q4

I could be very wrong, but that's the way I would interpret this.

RE: Doubt this matter
By WeaselITB on 6/7/2012 4:22:56 PM , Rating: 2
Err, there are PC components with Thunderbolt already on market. Here's one motherboard example --

Corrupt nonsense
By ProZach on 6/7/2012 7:39:40 PM , Rating: 2
So an ultrabook design patent gets granted this week but there are already numerous designs by other manufacturers in field today that are similar? And not just the old Sony notebook but current models? If they really invented the design why is the patent after the fact?

IMO it's like a slimy gambler threatening his bookie to lay off his bet just because the opposing team picked up a fumble.

Apple = rotten hardcore tech genocide

RE: Corrupt nonsense
By ritualm on 6/7/2012 10:11:19 PM , Rating: 2
Apple is small fry compared to Motorola. The latter wants to have Microsoft products banned worldwide just because El Ballmero disagrees with Moto's "outrageous" x264 licensing fees.

By Swamp on 6/7/2012 11:33:34 PM , Rating: 2
they need to investigate whoever is in charge of these patents. makes you wonder if someones not being bribed. anyone with a brain can read this crap and think its a joke. No matter if your a isheep or a android fan boy. I mean come the F on.

Someone needs to put Apple in their place. So sad Apple has to sue everyone cause someone makes a product that will compete or surpass their product.

Im all for the patent system. but enough is a enough. I cant see Apple fan boys agreeing with every thing they read bout apple suing everyone. Hopefully antitrust laws will put the hammer down on apple. set em straight.

RE: joke
By Cheesew1z69 on 6/8/2012 8:29:09 PM , Rating: 2
I cant see Apple fan boys agreeing with every thing they read bout apple suing everyone.
Then you clearly need to have your eyes checked.

By AnnoyedGrunt on 6/8/2012 3:39:57 AM , Rating: 2
This patent is a design patent, which is different from a utility patent in that it is a patent on the ornamental shape of a product. It basically is a way to prevent others from making clones of your product.

You'll see auto mfgs patent their cars all the time, even though there has been prior art for 100 years. As an engineer (and inventor on at least one patent) I must say that patents are an important way for companies to protect the R&D put into a product. It is easy for people to look at something and say that it is obvious after the patent has been filed (and for others to copy it), but often the best inventions are those that are the most simple.

In this specific case, it is unclear to me exactly how this wedge shape is defined, so I don't know how sweeping it would be. I do strongly disagree with Jason's assessment that Apple is patenting a fundamental matter of physics. An easy work around is to simply keep your competing laptop more square shaped (assuming you even thought this patent held water).

Anyhow, while I typically enjoy reading articles here, the patent coverage is laughable. I am dismayed that the US patent system is changing to a first to file format (clearly favoring larger companies), but I am also dismayed at the one sided coverage given to any patent article on this site.


By AnnoyedGrunt on 6/8/2012 4:02:21 AM , Rating: 2
Noticed this ineteresting presentation on the issue of design patents related to car repair. It covers both sides of the issue a little bit, although it discusses issues that probably wouldn't affect computer owners, as computers are typically more disposable that a car.

Dell Envy
By tchamber on 6/7/2012 3:21:21 PM , Rating: 2
I would like to see a Dell Envy, might be a nice computer. Can you imagine if all these kinds of open ended patents were so prolific in the automotive world?

By Mitch101 on 6/7/2012 3:21:30 PM , Rating: 2
I seem to recall a judge ruled a patent null/void based on the vague description of what was being patented. I wonder if a judge could rule on a similar basis claiming the patent granted is too common.

Japan called...
By The Raven on 6/7/2012 3:34:06 PM , Rating: 2
...and they want their cool American words from the '60s back.

By Cheesew1z69 on 6/7/2012 3:35:08 PM , Rating: 2
Apple could be fearful of the damage to its reputation that requesting a ban on all rival Ultrabook designs might have.
They SHOULD be fearful. If this isn't showing that Apple is trolling patents, I don't know what else would. I mean, this is getting beyond ridiculous now.

Prior art
By jeff3yan on 6/7/2012 4:20:19 PM , Rating: 2
Wouldn't this design patent be based on whether a reasonable person would deem the wedge design similar? Obviously they aren't patenting many other design aspects and focusing on the simplistic wedge design.

It doesn't look like there is any prior art that a 'normal' person would get confused and think may be based on the macbook air. As for current designs...

By EnzoFX on 6/7/2012 4:27:26 PM , Rating: 2
Virtually Everyone Ultrabook Appears to Violate New Apple Patent

Fix the title.
By vignyan on 6/7/2012 5:25:09 PM , Rating: 2
it happens... :)

By fteoath64 on 6/8/2012 2:33:00 AM , Rating: 2
Would love to see Apple trying to take on Dell, HP and Lenovo on this patent!. I doubt if Apple dares in this venture just due to the risks to their business (ie Mac line) of a prolonged litigation that can slow down the market and cost every player including Apple in the long run.

From history, in a battle any battle of the Titans, the one with a weak case always loses ...

Stupidity in the patent office
By Targon on 6/8/2012 7:42:46 AM , Rating: 2
So, what's next, I want to patent any display over 2x2 pixels, since no one has a patent on a 2x2 pixel display? How about any computing device that is under 2 cubic inches in total size? The idea that things can get smaller over time should NOT be something that can be PATENTED, or we would still be using CRT based screens.

Apple needs to be slapped down HARD for these sorts of "patents", which are NOT inventions. An invention should only be about inventing something that is a new invention, and "the look" should not be something that could be patented. What would happen if the idea of a 3 bedroom, 1 bath ranch were patented, then only ONE architect could come up with them?

time to abandon the idea of patents ?
By muy on 6/8/2012 9:35:14 AM , Rating: 2
maybe we should considering abandoning patents altogether as every single patent in some way retards the advancement of the whole human race.

one could consider a patent on something medical a crime against humanity in some way ...

maybe the good of humanity is worth more than the revenue of companies.

By siberus on 6/8/2012 11:40:31 AM , Rating: 2
Pretty sure alot of asus's netbooks came in that shape as well

By omgwtf8888 on 6/8/2012 2:07:49 PM , Rating: 2
Ever since i have had a compaq luggable the keyboard has been a slanted sort of teardrop. Im looking at the keyboard for my Dell desktop and it too is a teardrop. This loose patent junk has got to end. I wonder if the person that invented the typewriter patented the qwerty keyboard. Better yet i think I am going to patent a flat, wedge shaped, device, sharpened and used for cutting various materials. I will then stop anyone else from making knives.

By Narvanetsi on 6/8/2012 4:51:12 PM , Rating: 2
Who are those idiots that accepting the application for such a general usage matter. It's like I ask for a patent to the way humans are breathing. REALLY!!!!!

2001 (2?) ultrathin
By Kepler on 6/9/2012 1:37:17 PM , Rating: 2
I had a Sharp UM32W in 2001 or 2002, which was definitely of the thin form factor, so even before Sony's ultrathins...although I'm pretty sure they had pretty thin laptops back then too, as I was looking for something portable and remember looking at Sony stuff.


Lets violate Apple.
By Adam M on 6/10/2012 5:18:17 PM , Rating: 2
I think every body and their mother should release a product that violates at least one Apple patent, if not more. Apple will have to choose between paying legal costs to litigate against everyone or they can give up on enforcing their overly ambiguous patents to work on actual innovation.

Apple's Design Patents
By johnsmith9875 on 6/11/2012 10:18:25 AM , Rating: 2
Apple CAN be credited for designing the first laptop (iBook) that looks like a Toilet Seat. Luckily for them no other manufacturer wants to infringe on that one.

embrace freedom
By mario1234 on 6/13/2012 8:47:26 AM , Rating: 2
ubuntu is free of patents and a world success

no more
By glenco on 6/8/2012 12:51:35 AM , Rating: 1
i am done with apple. my current POS macbook pro will be my last. i do not support greedy bullies, this is why the world is in the state it is through pure GREED. i despise new apple owners as they know this and still their image is more important than anything else in the world. people have lost the ability to think for themselves. they can't buy a car, clothes, books... you name it, they can't buy it without being told what to buy. look at the top 10 books on amazon and tell me the world isnt full of sheep.

a shame a company with such a great ux design ability has to take the low road

at least
By hexxthalion on 6/8/2012 10:55:24 AM , Rating: 1
you've got something to write about ;) i don't think that anything without 'apple' in the headline drives so much traffic and hence ads impressions - so stop whining and enjoy

By messele on 6/8/12, Rating: -1
RE: Bravo
By hexxthalion on 6/8/2012 10:58:23 AM , Rating: 1
LOL!!!! good one, this made my day (so far)

RE: Bravo
By StoveMeister on 6/14/2012 3:02:04 AM , Rating: 1
Trollz gotta Troll.
Seriously. I sometimes wish that Mr S Jobs had managed to infect me with the magic disease too- life must be so prettier when truth can be ignored.
You do realise that we are talking about designs that predate Apple's designs by years, and in some cases decades.
A wedge design is a neccessity in modern notebooks, as in order to avoid getting sued for causing RSI-type injuries, you really need an ergonomically designed keyboard.
"Design-feature" my butt.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton

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