Smartphone and Tablet Lawsuit Shapes Up

If you want to create a tablet computer or smartphone that’s a pointy green pyramid, Apple has no objection.

That’s the only logical conclusion from a curious court filing the company has made in an ongoing legal battle with Samsung. Long story short, Apple is suing Samsung for copying the design of its products with the Galaxy S phone and Galaxy Tab tablet. Samsung has countered with the simple argument that it’s pretty difficult to design a decent tablet or phone that isn’t of a similar shape and style.

Apple’s is arguing that the design points it wants to protect are not vital to the functionality of a smartphone or tablet. It’s come up with a long list of suggested design features that Samsung could have used, with examples of how other companies have used them. This seems a particularly odd form of logic, akin to a car company suing any other firm that uses four wheels by noting that there are a few three-wheeled vehicles on the road. The argument also completely misses the point that while each of the example handsets differs in at least one way from an iPhone or iPad, they generally have many of the similarities Apple is objecting to with the Samsung case.

Apparently if you don’t want to risk a lawsuit from Apple your smartphone needs to have a front surface that is a color other than black or clear, isn’t rectangular, isn’t flat, and doesn’t have rounded corners. Meanwhile your display screen must be “more square than rectangular” (which makes little geometric sense) or not rectangular at all, and must not be centered on the front of the phone. Speaker openings that are horizontal slots with rounded openings are out, and you musn’t center them above the display screen. As for the front surface, you’ll be needing thick uneven bezels with “substantial adornment.”

Apple also maintains you have plenty of options if you want to avoid apeing the iPad. For example, just choose a shape other than a rectangle, and if that’s not possible, use pointed corners. Make sure your front surface isn’t flat and again has “substantial adornment”, keep the frame thick, and whatever you do make sure your tablet is much thicker than the iPad and looks cluttered.

What Apple is effectively arguing is that it’s created devices with a simple, effective (and most people would say logical) design; that some other companies have created some crappy looking devices; and that this somehow proves that unless you also use a crappy design, you are copying them.

Samsung will no doubt now respond by paying a design expert to compare all the leading handsets and tablets on the market to Apple’s checklist and revealing that the vast majority “copy” most of Apple’s listed features.

Unfortunately the legal system likely doesn’t allow Samsung to make a simple offer that if Apple can find anyone who bought a Samsung phone or tablet thinking it was an iPhone or iPad, they’ll happily give a refund.