A German court granted Apple a Europe wide injunction on Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 over the community design that Apple patented. The court has given Samsung 4 week's time to appeal. However, Samsung will have to remove all the 10.1 Tabs from the European market. According to reports, Apple has filed similar cases against Motorola and may go after HTC as well.
The heart of the issue is the 'generic/broad' design of a tablet that Apple got approved as EC community design. One may wonder how such a generic design, which covers an entire range of products and overlaps with other already existing products be patented to one single company?
A lot of bloggers like Ken Hess and Apple fans are defending Apple. Ken has defended Apple for patenting the iPad design. The question is how unique is the iPad's design, are there prior arts?
Should Apple' generic design be granted at all?
Steve Jobs: "We have been shameless about stealing great ideas."
Let's see whether the iPad's generic design should have been granted to Apple at all? In layman's terms its similar to:
- HP gets patent on the design of laptop – a foldable device with keyboard and screen – and then blocks everyone else from making laptops.
- Samsung patents the design of a TV set, a rectangular devices with a screen to watch and connectors on side or back and then block everyone else from making them.
- Bamboo patents the design of a Tablet Pen – a square shaped device where you can use a pen as interface and then block competition.
- Someone patents the design of the bicycle and blocks everyone else from entering the bicycle segment at all.
Got my point? Irrespective of how much R&D (more later) went inside, can you patent a generic design or a broad category of devices, only to block everyone else?
Apple's move is a clear case of monopoly, which even a kid can understand. Looking at the case, the injunction was granted immediately before allowing the other party to appeal. Usually, the other party is only informed that they have to respect the injunction. The party is not involved in the court's proceeding of whether to bring in an injunction or not. It's similar to getting a subpoena, search or arrest warrant without being informed, you can contest it later in the court.
Samsung clearly stated, the injunction request was filed without its knowledge and the order granted "without any hearing or presentation of evidence from Samsung."
Existence of Prior Art
Now, since the generic design patent has already been granted, its time to see if there is prior art which makes this patent invalid. Surprisingly, there are couple of existing devices which fall under the same form factor and category of handheld computers, including but not limited to digital photo frames and tablets.
Slippery Brick published a story in 2008 (two years before the iPad was announced) where they talked about the Star Trek Gadgets that became reality. They mentioned:
Computer tablet-More info on the go. A whole wireless computer in your hand. Chalk up another hit for Trek. We have all kinds of tablet PC’s UMPCs and palm devices. The men and women of The Next Generation always had any info they needed easily on hand and the devices looked sleek and sexy.
This is the image of the tablet used in Star Trek.
SJVN writes on ZDnet:
Where have I seen this before? Why, I remember! I recall my distant cousin Nichelle Nichols, that’s Lieutenant Uhura of Star Trek to you, “using” a tablet on the Enterprise back in 1966. I’m not the only one to have noticed the Star Trek/Apple iPad connection. Back when Apple introduced the iPad, actor Brent Spinner, aka Commander Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation, tweeted, “Didn’t Captain Picard used to play with a pad like that in his ready room? STAR TREK STRIKES AGAIN!!!” Yes, yes he did.
Here is the image from the TV show
Is it just a coincidence that Apple's tablet looks like the one used in the show? Even a child may have no doubt that Apple did not invent the design of the tablet, they simply took it from Star Trek. Ken Hess, do you still think Apple invented the tablet? Should not the credit go to the Star Trek author and designer who designed and conceptualised it and Apple's patent be made invalid?
In the real world there are couple of devices which share the same form-factor and design of the iPad which should make this patent invalid. In 2009, Samsung released the SPF-87H Photo Frame. With a slim screen depth of 23 mm (.91 inches) and 1 GB of internal memory, the SPF-87H can store up to 3,000 photos, while being powered only by a USB cable.
This is the design of the photo frame – any resemblance with Apple's iPad? Yes.
There are many other companies which launched their photo frames before Apple's iPad. Should these make Apple's patents invalid?
How about Table PC segment itself, which was introduced by none other than Microsoft? Here is a press release from 2008 (two years before iPad existed): SUNNYVALE, CA -- (Marketwire) -- 12/16/08 -- Fujitsu Computer Systems Corporation, the expert in pen computing, today showcased its 17 years of experience in developing tablet PCs, announcing the Stylistic(R) ST6012 slate tablet PC featuring the first embedded, biometric pre-boot authentication available on a slate, improved processor performance, and a new semi-rugged sleek exterior. Less than one-inch thick with a 12.1-inch, anti-glare display, the comfortable-to-carry slate is ideal for on-your-feet computing markets including insurance, education, and healthcare, as well as retail/mobile sales.
Here is the design of the Tablet, resemblance with the iPad? Yes. If you search the web for Tablets you will find dozens of tablets which were launched before the ipad.
The only mistake all these companies made was not to patent a generic design of a category of products.
Apple's Steve Jobs once said that "We have been shameless about stealing great ideas." The same company accusses others of copying? Irony. Here is Mr Jobs himself:
Apple's Anti-Competitive Business Pactices Worse Than Microsoft's
The European Commission is quite careful when it comes to anti-competitive or monopolistic practices. The same EC fined Microsoft billions of Euros on the charge of anti-competitive practices. The same EC forced Microsoft to unbundle Windows Media Player from Windows OS. The same court forced Microsoft to offer alternatives to its own Internet Explorer.
Apple's iPad is an even more dangerous case of anti-competitive business practices. An iPad user is locked inside Apple's ecosystem, you can't buy apps or books without giving 30% cut to Apple. Each and every app has to be approved by Apple and the company can, at anytime, remove your profit making app, copy it and create its own. Users are also locked inside of iTunes, where you can't export your paid data to be played on any non-iTunes connected devices. In a nut-shell Apple is a far bigger anti-competitive threat than Microsoft was.
I have seen EC rulings and I think Apple is playing a risky game here. If competitors, which is almost everyone else, can present prior art and present the case of Apple's anti-competitive plans, Apple may have to share a big chunk of billions of Euros from his ~$75 Billion bank balance, as fines.