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Ban is rejected, judges say no one is mistaking Samsung's tablets for Apple ones

U.S. Design Patent D504,889 and its corresponding patents in Europe, Australia, and elsewhere have stirred up a lively debate about patent law in relation to competition.  The Apple, Inc. (AAPL) design patent contains precious little text, so it's left to Apple's lawyers to interpret it, and is up to international courts to decide how broad the protected design space is.

I. Does D'889 Grant Apple a Monopoly?

Apple claims D'889 is essentially a blank check to a tablet monopoly.  While the pictured device in the 2004-era patent:

Apple D'889 patent

...has no buttons and is substantially different from the iPad in bezel size and form factor, Apple says none of that matters.  It says it has "invented" the minimalist tablet  -- in Apple's words a tablet with "slightly rounded corners,'" "a flat transparent surface without any ornamentation," and "a thin profile" -- and that competitors should not be allowed to produce rival designs of any size.  The only unspoken exception is Windows 8 tablets, as Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) owns a favorable cross-licensing deal with Apple.

In the U.S., Apple's claims of monopoly ownership were backed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit who decided in a May 14th ruling [PDF] that Apple's design patent was valid and that Samsung infringed on it. The ruling led to Judge Lucy Koh in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose/San Francisco) to institute a nationwide sales ban on Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KSC:005930) Galaxy Tab 10.1, despite her personal opinion that the patent was invalid.

Overseas in Britain, Apple's broad claims met a far different fate.  Judge Colin Birss stroked Apple's ego, while offering it a stinging court defeat.

II. UK Judge Rejects Design Infringement Claims

He writes, "[The Galaxy Tab line] do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design... They are not as cool."

Despite the kind words, the Judge says that 50+ examples of prior art both in the industry and in fictional works show that Apple's 2004 idea was hardly "original".  The Judge considered it ludicrous that Samsung be expected to differentiate the front of its device, given that extra face buttons hinder the user interface and that the hardware form factor is almost entirely constrained by the multi-touch display, an industry standard.

Judge Birss says where tablets need to differentiate themselves is in the back face and profile.  He found that "unusual details" on the back of the Samsung devices, as well as a thinner profile, made them trivially distinguishable from the iPad.

Galaxy Tab v. iPad
The Galaxy Tab (left) is substantially different from the iPad (right) according to a UK Judge.  
[Image Source: Gadgets and Gizmos]

In short, he argued that Apple's lawyers were completely wrong in their argument that customers would confuse the Galaxy Tab 10.1 for iPads.

His ruling means that there will be no bans and no damages on a design basis.  A London court previously ruled that three of Apple's most-asserted EU technology patents were invalid on the grounds of obviousness and prior art, while a fourth was too narrow to sue Samsung and others.

Apple has 21 days to appeal the ruling to higher courts in the UK.  Otherwise it risks a complete loss in its UK efforts to kill Android in court.  Such a loss could spell a permanent end to the company's slew of suits in the European Union.

Amid the losses in the EU, Apple's bet at banning the competition may be in the U.S. However, it faces some tough tests, such as Judge Richard A. Posner who argues that the U.S. patent system is broken and that Apple is using the broken system to its advantage as a weapon to kill free market competition.

Source: Bloomberg

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RE: Dear Apple...
By sprockkets on 7/9/2012 10:53:34 PM , Rating: 3
At least sony made good products in the day, like the trinitron and walkman. AND they featured good sound quality. Remember MEGA Bass?

Memories :)

RE: Dear Apple...
By Pirks on 7/10/2012 12:14:20 AM , Rating: 2
At least sony made good products in the day
At least Apple does outstanding products RIGHT NOW, unlike Sony. I played with Retina MBP at the local Apple store last Friday - man what a craftsmanship! PC industry will never produce anything like that until next year, that's if we are very lucky. Such a thin, light and long lasting laptop with such a screen and other top notch internals... man if I were an OS X fanatic like Tony :)))

RE: Dear Apple...
By BZDTemp on 7/10/2012 7:51:01 AM , Rating: 2
They still make good products.

Cameras, TV's, Hifif, laptops, walkmans... and also lots of pro gear.

Sony learned from their mistakes and their stuff is a lot more open to widely used standards than Apple and Microsoft for that matter.

Look at the PS3 vs. the XBOX 360. The PS3 comes with instructions and software tools needed to swap the hard drive to any standard 2.5" SATA drive with the 360 one has to buy from Microsoft at a huge premium. With the PS3 you can use PC gear like keyboards, steering wheels as well as pretty much any Bluetooth headset while with the 360 it's all bespoke 360 gear....

RE: Dear Apple...
By Mint on 7/11/2012 11:14:02 AM , Rating: 2
I hate Apple's tactics and will probably never buy one of their products, but you can't make a blanket statement like that.

The iPod destroyed every MP3 player with its UI, and Apple used its might to drag the childish recording industry by the ear into the digital age with iTunes. MacBooks are generally overpriced, but it took ages for a PC to come out that was as light/powerful/affordable as the MacBook Air. The iPhone took a bunch of existing ideas and put it into a cohesive package, creating the modern smartphone before anyone else. Now we're seeing their buying power changing the direction of the display industry away from 100% cost reduction to one that puts a little effort into image quality.

So long as the courts keep rejecting Apple's anti-competitive behavior, the tech industry has benefited greatly from Apple's existence.

RE: Dear Apple...
By Cheesew1z69 on 7/11/2012 11:59:24 AM , Rating: 2
MacBooks are generally overpriced, but it took ages for a PC to come out that was as light/powerful/affordable as the MacBook Air

"You can bet that Sony built a long-term business plan about being successful in Japan and that business plan is crumbling." -- Peter Moore, 24 hours before his Microsoft resignation

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