Apple is giving Samsung a legal pummeling because it thinks the latter stole the iPad's design for the Galaxy Tab. So far, the fight's going well for Apple. But Samsung has something up its sleeve: Apple ripped off science fiction.
Or so Samsung claims. Patent expert Florian Mueller noticed something odd in Samsung's American legal counteroffensive: they argue the idea for the iPad existed back in 1968, when Stanley Kubrick dreamed up his sci fi classic. And in American patent law, if the idea existed before your patent application—what's known as prior art—your patent is null. So essentially, Samsung is pulling a hell of a legal maneuver here, alleging they couldn't possibly have stolen the iPad's design, because Apple took it from an imaginary science fiction movie space station:
Attached hereto as Exhibit D is a true and correct copy of a still image taken from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey." In a clip from that film lasting about one minute, two astronauts are eating and at the same time using personal tablet computers. The clip can be downloaded online at
. As with the design claimed by the D'889 Patent, the tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table's surface), and a thin form factor.
Mueller says it would be "amazing" if the court bought this. But Samsung does have a point, even if it's a futile one. The problem with Apple's radically minimal design is that it's hard to say there's terribly much singular about it. Unlike the design of, say, a Lamborghini, which is distinctive and iconic because of its detail, Apple's gorgeous industrial design is striking because of how invisible it is.
All tablets are pretty much just black glass rectangles. Most smartphones are pretty much just smaller black glass rectangles. Apple certainly made this design ubiquitous through the iPad and iPhone, respectively, but did they invent it? With a form so vague, it might be hard to prove that they did. And if the realm of science fiction becomes fair game, the fights of Samsung—and any other company Apple might square off against—could become easier. I'd never have guessed Space Age design and beautiful futurism could be a liability. [FOSS Patents via 9to5Mac]
Update: Turns out Daniel Kokin, whose "Video Pod" projector caught the ire of Apple legal for daring to use the word pod, employed the 2001 Defense way before Samsung. His argument? One (very memorable) line: "Open the pod bay doors, Hal."