While many major portable gadget manufacturers have been engaged in patent wars for the past few years, most cases are either thrown out by judges, tied up in injunctions, or wind up in a pre-trial settlement. Not so for Apple and Samsung who today begin a full-blown trial in what Samsung is dismissing as a “fighting over rectangles.”
This particular case involves several claims and counterclaims, but the key is whether Samsung’s devices copy the look of the iPhone and iPad. Previous rulings have seen mixed results: Apple got a temporary sales ban on the original Samsung Galaxy Tab in the US, but its claims were tossed completely by a British judge (albeit with the logic that there’s no confusion because the Tab isn’t as “cool” as the iPad.)
The US case will now go before a jury that was selected yesterday. The case judge has already ruled that although the injunction made worldwide news, Apple lawyer’s can’t bring it up as an argument to persuade the jury that there’s something to their claims.
The matter at stake here isn’t simply whether Samsung violated Apple’s patents, but whether those patents were valid in the first place, and how they should be interpreted.
The Apple claim in the case certainly seems ambitious. For example, it complains that Samsung copied its design of having a black rectangular border with rounded corners and a flat upper surface, with minimal adornment on the border.
The problem is that while Apple’s design is always distinctive, what stands out is its simplicity and lack of unusual features. An Apple design is defined more by what it doesn’t feature than what it does.
It’s always hard to predict how a jury will react to a case, or exactly how the judge will rule on the interpretation of law. But in terms of real-life justice, it’s hard to see how anyone will have bought a Samsung Tab genuinely believing it to be an iPad, which in turn makes it hard to see how Apple has suffered substantial damage.