(Source: AllPosters)
Apple was hardly the first to make a Dock/Launcher; if Samsung's Windows 8 launcher "stole", so did Steve Jobs

Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz wrote an intriguing headline "Samsung Is Copying Apple’s Dock In Their Win 8 Machines Too: Will They Ever Learn?"  Mr. Diaz comments:

I don't know if Samsung is now just taunting Apple or if their user interface "designers" are the same lazy idiots who copied the iPhone icons. In any case, this is getting hilarious. Or pathetic. Or disgusting. Or all of the above.

The premise is admittedly amusing.  Is Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930) really copying a patented and trademarked technology of Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL)?  Would it be that foolish after losing a caustic verdict in the smartphone space for allegedly lifting Apple features?

I. Who Really Invented the Dock?

The answer is that it depends on your definition of "copied", and what your feelings on a copy of a copy are, as a brief history of the dock by LunDuke explains.

When MacOS landed in 1984 it had no Dock (Launcher).  Arthur (1987) and RISC OS 2 (1989) -- operating systems from now-defunct ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM) parent Acorn Computers -- were perhaps the first to add the feature, albeit in crude VGA form:

Risc OS 3.11
Acorn Computers pioneered the dock. [Image Source: LunDuke]

Later in 1989, Steve Jobs (having left Apple and gone to work at NeXT) pulled a Picasso and "stole" the idea, adding a dock to his NeXTSTEP operating system:

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs arrived late to the dock/launcher part in 1989. [Image Source: FutureTG]

OS/2 3.0 (1994) and CDE (1993) offered minor improvements to this familiar theme.  But perhaps the most visually striking dock came in 2000 with AmigaOS 3.9's AmiDock, an operating system by German software firm Haage & Partner.

AmiDock was visually the most striking dock yet, made in 2000. [Image Source: LunDuke]

Lo and behold Steve Jobs -- having returned to Apple -- introduced a nearly identical dock to Amiga's in 2001 as part of the new MacOS X:

MacOS X Beta
The Aqua interface (MacOS X beta "Kodiak") added a dock to Apple's operating systems at long last.
[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Eventually that dock would evolve visually to its current form.

OS X Mountain Lion
OS X Mountain Lion [Image Source: Apple]

But of course, Linux docks (which trace their roots to CDE, etc.) also have been actively evolving as well.  Both Ubuntu (Canonical Ltd.) and Gnome Desktop have docks which rival that of OS X, and owe to their rich lineage:

Gnome Desktop dock
Gnome Desktop (Ubuntu10.10 32-bit) [Image Source: YouTube]

II. Other Considerations : Did Samsung Infringe?

So is Samsung...

Samsung S Launcher
Samsung S Launcher [TechMynd]

...late to the dock party?   The Gizmodo piece and other similar pieces attacking Samsung do correctly point out that Apple acquired NeXTSTEP (by proxy its dock legacy and OS patent, U.S. Patent No. 5,146,556; filed Feb. 1991).  But they seriously overlook the fact that NeXTSTEP and Steve Jobs were not the first to create the dock -- Acorn Computers was.

Now Apple does hold another broad patent -- U.S. Patent No. 7,434,177 -- on the features of OS X, including the dock.  That patent was filed in Dec. 1999 and granted in 2008.  Some have interpreted that to Apple "patenting" the dock/launcher.  But in reality, it has made no effort yet to bring such enforcement and seems highly unlikely too; given the shaky historical ground it's on regarding prior art.

Gizmodo writes:

The Dock, as you can imagine, is patented.... Its design and functionality is credited to Bas Ording, Donald Lindsay and, drumroll, Steve Jobs.

However, the Dock is just a specific implementation detail in a broad patent regarding OS X.  Apple didn't "patent the dock".  It patented OS X, which includes a claim to a specific implementation of the dock.  Likewise it holds a patent on NeXTSTEP's graphical user interface, and claims to a crude early Dock.  

There often is a difference between a patent targeting a specific feature and a broad interface patent covering an entire system/user interface.  Often the latter approach leads to a narrowing of claims.  Thus this distinction should have been noted in the current coverage.

Also the patent itself contains a central claim:

1. A computer system comprising: a display; a cursor for pointing to a position within said display; a bar rendered on said display and having a plurality of tiles associated therewith; and a processor for varying a size of at least one of said plurality of tiles on said display when said cursor is proximate said bar on said display and for repositioning others of said plurality of tiles along said bar to accommodate the varied size of said one tile.

...which is slowly expanded upon in later claims.  The core of the claim is resizing tiles and repositioning the tiles, via moving the others.  The Samsung S Launcher does not appear to have either functionality.

Apple did not patent a bar with icons.  It patented specific animations of its task bar (Dock) icons.  Samsung does not appear to be overstepping this by simply having a more Dock/Launcher with static icons and a transparent back because that is not the invention claimed in the in Apple patent.

And besides this and the prior art issue, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has a broad cross-licensing pact with Apple and tends to zealously defend its Windows OEMs.  So it would likely not take kindly to Apple suing a Windows 8 device maker for a semi-similar design in a field with plentiful prior art.

Sources: Gizmodo, LunDuke

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