Print 114 comment(s) - last by StoveMeister.. on Jun 14 at 3:02 AM

  (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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RE: Patent Office
By testerguy on 6/8/2012 4:02:37 AM , Rating: -1
Its basic argument is that it can't compete so it files for a ridiculous number of patents

So... many... fails....

Apple has never made any argument that it 'can't compete' and indeed that's a complete nonsense given their sales performance.

As for filing for a 'ridiculous number' of patents, please, what is 'ridiculous'? Who are you to decide. Can an innovative company not try to patent things they believe they created?

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.

Seriously? You're now trying to imply iPhones, the phone purchased, on average, by better educated, older, better paid people is only for 'Girls with small fingers'? Android ICS doesn't look any better than iOS, and Windows Phone is just a joke.

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.

Yeah because by trying to protect their invention, something completely different to that Sony Vaio you ridiculously present as prior art, by the way, they are in fact not competing any more and have stopped producing products. Please. Every single manufacturer has sued someone else over patents, you need to seriously realise how much of a biased idiot you sound.

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.

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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