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Battle Of The Tech Titans

Apple vs. Samsung. The “Patent Trial of the Century” heats up. We’ll look at what’s at stake.

 A Samsung Tablet-PC "Galaxy Tab 10.1" and an Apple iPad. (AP)

A Samsung Tablet-PC “Galaxy Tab 10.1″ and an Apple iPad. (AP)

How much of the design of the world can you patent?  Can you own?  That question is big right now in a courtroom in California.  Mighty Apple is up against mighty Samsung in the “patent trial of the century” over the design of smartphones and computer tablets.

Apple says it designed the iPhone, iPad world we live in, and Samsung ripped it off.  Samsung says come off it – what’s a smartphone supposed to look like?   The corporate stakes are sky-high.  So is the intellectual question.  How much of the world can you patent?

This hour, On Point:  Apple versus Samsung over the shape of the digital world.

-Tom Ashbrook


Christina Bonnington,  staff writer for Wired’s Gadget Lab blog, covering Apple, Microsoft and other tech issues.

Paul Barrettassistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. You can find his stories on the Apple Samsung fight here, here, and here.

Kevin Rivette, a founder and partner of the Palo Alto office of 3LP Advisors. He is the former vice president of IP Strategy for IBM and the author of Rembrandts in the Attic: Unlocking the Hidden Value of Patents.

From Tom’s Reading List

Bloomberg “Copycat or competitor? A U.S. jury’s choice of descriptor for Samsung Electronics will determine whether Apple  defeats its Korean rival in the global patent war’s biggest battle yet. For two years, Apple has fought with other mobile device makers in courts on four continents.”

Mashable “For many, it’s a simple patent case that will be won or lost based on the evidence of inspiration. Yet what’s at stake is more than the $2.5 billion Apple wants from Samsung’s hide — it’s the future of innovation, and maybe even the very definition of an idea.”

PC World “Patent litigation has become standard business practice in the tech world, and no rivalry demonstrates that better than Apple and Samsung. The ongoing trial between the two smartphone and tablet leaders is the poster child for all that is wrong with tech patents.”


Check out these charts from the trial, outlining each company’s claims about their tech development.

This graphic from Apple shows the design changes that came in the wake of the release of the iPhone.

This graphic from Apple shows the design changes that came in the wake of the release of the iPhone.

This drawing from Samsung shows its version of the evolution of the mobile phone.

This drawing from Samsung shows its version of the evolution of the mobile phone.

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  • http://twitter.com/TweeterSmart b smart

    you all should talk about the successful landing on mars…it actually matters!

    • Wm. James from Missouri

      I tried to watch it on my PC, but my multi-billion dollar internet carrier can’t seem to provide the speed necessary to give me sound and video at the same time, unbelievable ! Where are the consumer protection groups when you need them ? Where is the Attorney General ? Where are the proven technological standards ?

      • http://twitter.com/TweeterSmart b smart

        just wait until they end net neutrality you will only be watching what they want you to watch!

      • RolloMartins

        I believe you will find them (proven tech standards) in Japan and S. Korea.

      • JustSayin

        We get a six year old technology release when the tech monopolies have wrung every penny out of their last release of ten year old technology.

        The spirit of Ma Bell alive and well deeming what is good enough for the proletariat, cause retooling is more expensive than bribing congressional whores with shiny trinkets and cash.

    • JGC

      And what about the new Milner Fundamental Physics prizes that have just been awarded for the first time? 

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  • JustSayin

    At no time in history of automobile manufacturing have automobiles looked so alike and had the same options. The only difference is color and quality. 

    If I watch the evening news on any of the four network monopolies, they
    are the same broadcast right down to the story placement and the drug and car commercials.

    What will people see that evening on each of those stations, American Idol, The voice, The choice?  All while wearing sneakers with soles, laces and a tongue. 

    So… does Apple have a case?  I don’t think so.

    Technology seeks what people need and want through technological evolution, and at the end point it all looks and feels the same.  In the end, all that remains is the choice of “Brand” and color.

    Get over it Apple…

  • RolloMartins

    Patents are a joke…the whole thing needs to be tossed. 

  • Vandermeer

    Apple has the upper hand and the creative genius. Samsung is a wanna bee.

    • JustSayin

       “Has” or had?

      History is a good teacher. Once a corporate giant has gobbled up all of the small companies that had the good ideas, they move to litigation to make profits.

      The end of a corporation’s creative edge is always punctuated by litigation against it’s competitors.

      The latest innovation to the I-phone is (drum roll please)… Make it bigger and brighter.  Now who is copying whom.

      • Matt

        case in point, Kodak

  • jefe68

    This is all well and good. From what I’ve been reading about this both corporations are abusing the patten laws, which are still in the 19th century.

    How about the issue that our WIFI and internet structure is about 26th in the world.

    Verizon does not even have up to date routers which means most of them don’t’ work with iphones, ipad, tablets, droids and newer laptops.   

    Where I live I have two choices. Verizon or Comcast. So much for the market giving me choices.

  • Jasoturner

    I remember when the iPhone came out.  It was so unique that people stopped and stared when someone happened to have one.  Now, I can’t tell an iPhone from other phones.  While I am not an Apple defender, it does seem pretty clear that, with an infinite number of interface options available, the Apple model was appropriated in lieu of engineering a new interface.

    I presume that Samsung will claim that there is a certain inevitability about the look and feel of the iPhone, just like there is a certain inevitability of a steering wheel in a car.  But given the plethora of phones that were developed before the iPhone, none of which had the requisite simplicity or elegance, I am not sure this is a convincing position.  Indeed, Windows’ Metro interface shows that other interface design alternatives can be created.  If sufficient effort is made.

    On that second chart, it is too bad the phones don’t show the interface that would be running.  If there were little icons all over the place it would bode well for Samsung.  If it looks like some version of Windows, not so well.

  • J P Fitzsimmons

    The smartphone is a combination of a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and a cellphone. The PDA evolved from Apples’s Newton device of the early 90s, and evolved into more powerful devices offered by Palm, HP, Asus and other companies before the smartphone.  PDAs were slow response when loaded with GPS and other advanced features due to lack of processor power and the touch screen interface was a bit awkward and required a stylus to work accurately. However, it seems like the basic idea has been around long before the Iphone.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Regardless of who owns what, I’d really like to see corporations pick up the costs of these long, resource intensive patent trials instead of taxpayers forced to pick up the tab for courtrooms, judges, security, etc.

  • TribalGuitars

    Apple would have the patent office believe that they invented the color white, a round edge, the power button, the alphabet, the wheel, and math. 

    Patent law clearly needs to be overhauled, as it was never intended to be used and abused in the manner that it is now.  Bundling patents, overly broad terms, lengthy exclusivity terms, just to name a few. 

    • J__o__h__n

      I’m surprised the patent office didn’t give them the patents for those. 

      • TribalGuitars

         There are some patents out there that I don’t think the patent office grasps. I wasn’t kidding that the alphabet, numbers, and math have tried to be patented. It’s how they’re used – Like where the “2+2″ or a “b” gets put in an algorithm. Some things are inert “ingredients”, like when  the drug co. is about to loose its patent, they tweak it’s recipe, perhaps adding some inert substance or moving a molecule that has no bearing on the drugs function whatsoever, and presenting it as an improved drug, patent that, and get another 15 years of exclusivity and profits because now they can call it “Newsameoldthing-D”. 

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Apple didn’t invent any of this. Look back to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 which foreshadowed the electronic newspaper. Look at the Star Trek follow-on series and movies. Configurable touchscreens. My apologies to all of the other sci-fi movies not mentioned which depicted this decades ago. In the end, Jobs, Apple and everyone else were just waiting for an affordable practical enabling touch-screen technology to be developed. Jobs just scooped them on the timing of the investment and deployment. As far as Apple’s interface goes, it’s not without warts. They need to get over it.

  • J__o__h__n

    Samsung should be afraid of Apple’s lawyers.  I still can’t believe they beat Apple Records. 

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    The only one’s who will win are the lawyers. Consumers will end up paying for this. Nuts!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Given the much shorter market times and technology turnover, patent times on technology should be much shorter. Shortening it from 17 to 5-7 years would be appropriate.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Gene Roddenberry should have patented “look and feel” of the stuff developed for Star Trek. Touchpads that look a lot like ipads were commonplace in DS9.

    • J__o__h__n

      Gene was a bit of an IP parasite too.  He wrote lyrics to the Star Trek theme so that he got a share of the royalties from it even though they were never sung. 

  • ToyYoda

    I understand protecting the look and feel of your product, but when does design become an invention or even patentable?  Some of the patents that apple has is ridiculous.  Patents for rectangular screens.  Patent for displaying buttons on a touch capacitive screen so that when you press that area of the screen it acts like a button. 

  • DrewInGeorgia

    What a joke.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cyndi-Armstrong/704124574 Cyndi Armstrong

    Honestly, I think that Apple is just mad because the Samsung product works better.  We tested the iPhone4 next to the Samsung Galaxy iiS.  Literally side by side.  I had one and my husband had the other.  Hands down, Samsung.  
    If this was really about patents then I think Apple would have jumped all over this years ago.  These phones have been looking more and more alike for the last decade.  

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    This is not good PR for Apple… kind of like a whiny kid. If Apple believes that it can patent the rectangle with rounded corners, looks like I violated their patent with the rounded corners on my granite counter tops… can I patent the sphere?

  • Fabricatea

    The “therm-nuclear” statement was directed to Google for their android system. Not too Samsung.  Please make that correction.

  • http://twitter.com/mofycbsj Brian

    Why hasn’t anybody patented the shape and design of a pen? A
    wristwatch? A stapler?

    • Sandy Untermyer

      Excuse me, but those things are patented all the time. 

  • Ben in Medford, MA

    This is stupid. Did Ford sue every other carmaker on earth for copying the design of the automobile? Did IBM sue Apple because their computers looked similar? You cannot patent basic product design.

    Now some of the more complicated stuff, maybe they have a case, but certainly not “they are both rectangular, and have a screen.” Apple can bite me.

  • Susie_d

    From a consumer standpoint and not a legal one, I chose samsung over apple because it has much lower radiation. the iphone is I believe 1.46 SAR rating, where my samsung captivate had .27. so for me as well as friends of mine who feel the same way it was a no brainer. I currently have the samsung note and the radiation is still about .50.
    There is a lot that we don’t know, and there have been how many reputablestudies linking radiation dangers to cell phones, especially when they are held next to the head. Therefore, even using the speaker phone, I would far rather err on the side of caution. so I have always chosen samsung due to that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1119045080 Chris Smith

    When Borland software came out with Quattro, its user interface was a direct knock off of the market leader Lotus 1-2-3.  The “Look and Feel” court fights ensued.  Ultimately, the courts decided that Borland was within its rights to provide its users an interface that they already knew.

  • Joe in Philly

    Patents are undermining innovation by setting up (at times) insurmountable barriers to followers. The current state is not what the framers of Constitution had in mind when they crafted 
    Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8. We need to reign in this nonsense!

  • NPR_Listener

    What’s stake for the customers and other start-up companies?
    Is one company dominating the smart phone market really good for the customers?
    Will all the future start-up companies have to have every new products with simple and round-shaped designs bound to Apple?

  • Fabricatea

    The problem with the current patent system is that they are passing patents that are very vague. Both Apple and Samsung are abusing the flaws in the patent system. Need an over-haul of the current patent system.

  • Kate

    This ripping off of Apple’s designs for so long that it seems like an ordinary business plan at this point. One can imagine all the computer and phone makers anxiously waiting in line at the first day release of a new Apple product, then running to their own product development, ripping it apart and immediately cranking out their own version and selling them to people who can’t tell the difference. I remember the jelly colors that were all of sudden everywhere AFTER Apple designed it. Meanwhile, I’ve heard designers whine that whatever Apple’s aesthetic of the moment is dominating the desires of consumers. It goes on and on…

  • Nancy

    How is the double-tap any different from the double-click people have long used?

    When touch-screens first appeared, tapping was used in the same way people were used to using a mouse… software was designed for the double-click, so it naturally needed the double-tap in the same situations.

    Apple is indeed trying to claim it invented the wheel!

    They may have legitimate claims on some design elements, but claiming exclusive rights to practically everything is a stretch!

    • Brian

      Apple is not attempting to own the act, they are patenting the function that follows the act. That is, the zooming of the screen to a certain paragraph of text or area of an image.

  • Brian

    It is a world of difference between copying the seed of an idea and copying the working model of a product.

    Apple copied the Xerox’s idea and invested the time to make it work. They also put years into revolutionizing the phone.

    Samsung copied the product to cash in on the market… a market they had years to define themselves.

  • J__o__h__n

    Copyright needs to be reformed too.  70 years after the death of the writer is far too long.  Instead of reforming it though it will likely be extended again even though the person it was supposed to benefit is long dead.

  • Manny0022

    Star trek (deep space nine ) came up with the name pad (Personal Access Device) I love apple but devie is from star trek, and Samsung clearly copied apple.

  • J__o__h__n

    Walmart should sue Apple for stealing their Chinese labor abuses. 

    • Wm. James from Missouri

      : )   :)  :) ….

  • Paul S.

    It’s not about who “invented” rectangular screens, fancy buttons, or how scrolling lists move.  Rather it is about the essence of Apple.  Since the beginning its focus has been integrating computer technology (meaning hardware and software) with ages-old visual and aesthetic culture.  They very first image on the Macintosh was the world “hello,” written in cursive.  

    That moment was a clarion call to a new generation of designers that technology is human, and marrying it with the already-tried-and-true achievements of humanity’s aesthetic and cultural output would be the winning direction in the evolution of computer technology. Samsung is not about that, but is more than happy to take the results of decades of Apple’s expertise in this area and simply copy it.  Of course that’s what Microsoft did with Windows, etc. and I’m sure Steve Jobs thought “never again” after that.  And so when Android/Samsung phones that clearly ripped off Apple’s duly and legally protected intellectual property, it’s no wonder he went ballistic.

    And that’s really the point: It’s not about what should be patentable or who invented this or that piece, but about the incontrovertible fact that Apple did spend years of design work to create something of incredible value.  And it’s also a fact that Samsung did nothing of the sort when it created its knock-offs. Sure, they can now “innovate” and improve, but they are able to do that now by virtue of having cut to the front of the line in 2007.

    Many years ago a similar case occurred between Microsoft and Lotus.  Lotus sued Microsoft, claiming it had simply copied the “look and feel” of what was then the most popular spreadsheet software in the world (Lotus 1-2-3).  Lotus lost because the court found that no one could claim that the names of commands, their position in menus, and the layout of spreadsheets in cells, etc., were proprietary in any way.  

    Because of that, there is a gray area where, yes, anyone can now create a menu bar with the word “File” at the left, and the words “Save as …” on the list of pulldown choices.  Seems so pedestrian, doesn’t it?  But at the time there was uncertainty as to whether those sorts of ideas belonged to Lotus.  

    These jurors are being asked to, in a sense, determine which of Apple’s design contributions are to be henceforth considered “public domain.”  If Samsung wins, there will be little incentive for companies to try to protect their investment in the space that straddles humanities and sciences, which is of course the world in which people live their lives.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    I regularly violate a Microsoft Trade Mark when I ask if I should open (or close) the windows. People had windows in their houses LONG before Bill Gates was born.  It is amazing what people can manage to get a TM or patent on.

  • Matt Orosz

    Right or wrong, a good technological offense is always better than a legal defense.  The lawyers feast while the money on both sides should have been spent on engineering and innovation, the things that actually drive prosperity forward.

  • Angela

    I think Apple created this design (combination of forms) and it was a hit.. You dont have to be an expert to see that Samsung looks and feels like an apple.
    Apple is right and it should be recognized ….
    You can follow a good design but you have to make sure the credit ids given to the creator.

  • NPRJunkie

    I am an avid Droid user.  I avoid apple at all costs partly because I think they’re arrogant and over priced.  The fact that they think they own the rectangular shape and curved edges is ridiculous.  They think they have the best product and the best minds, well, keep innovating and don’t try to stifle competition. 

    Apple users should remember that they are paying for this litigation as part of that $300-$600 price tag.

  • Doc Leni

    one problem with the iPhone is that if it is not supported by ones cell phone carrier (often the case in very rural areas where there is only one cell carrier – we only get US Cellular and here in our county only Verizon and  AT&T support the iPhone-  I will never ‘get’ to use the iPnone!  it is not fair for Apple to usurp the Android market as many of us not only like our andriod product but couldn’t use anything else in any case. 

  • RD

    It is not the rectangle with rounded corner… It goes much beyond that. Simplicity is the key here. Apple changed the whole phone/wireless market by introducing iPhone. Before that mobile phones in the US were a joke, today that is not the case.

    Ideally, this should trigger more innovation, thinking out side the box to come up with a design that changes the playing field again… Apple did, others can too…

    I am not suggesting that Apple is right here but just want to say that most others in the smartphone market are apple wanna be – including google.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MKYVSA5DN6XM57MZV52JCM6B54 Alsand Pine

    first of all apple has never created anything. starting from the mac which was taken from xerox to the os to the idea of mobile and computing merging, apple has been good at building on top of what others have done and in fact in most cases ripping off other peoples designs so it is very hypocritical for them to be supposedly protective of their designs. i suggest people actually studying the history before spreading the nonsense i see all over the place about apple and mr jobs genius. they are very good at monopolizing other peoples work. this is historical fact and if you cannot deal with it then that is your problem. apple was my first pc and i left the apple camp because of their consistent drive to stifle competition. opinions are entirely irrelevant if they are based on anything but facts. the problem with majority of apple fans i know, and i know many, is that they are very emotional and generally know very little about the technical side of things and thus are evangelists instead of basing their opinions on facts. they are entitled to their opinion of course but this does not make their opinions valid. i wish bill gates had never saved apple. i have disliked monopolistic companies all my life. i also find it hilarious that so many open design folks are apple fans. talk about an oxymoron!

  • Guest

    Just some perspective from a designer, which I think was sadly lacking from this conversation. It is all too common in design today to be knocked-off. And again, sadly, most of the time, it is the designers and designs that suffer the consequences. I know Apple is a huge corporation but I’d hate to dismiss all the time and money for R&D that all the people on the design team at Apple put into making their products truly innovation. I can tell you first hand that for every 10, 20 designs or prototypes, you may get 1 design. And then, because that result is so revolutionary they are supposed to just give it away? I’m sure we can all relate to this in our different markets, not just design.
    I think it is very simplistic to say that one cannot innovate without using another’s patents.
    Lastly if Samsung is arguing that they were simply just “inspired” by Apple’s products where is the innovation that they brought to their products to improve on Apple’s design? I’m sorry I don’t see it. All I see is a knock-off.

  • Sandy Untermyer

    On the show, I kept hearing about hardtops on cars, and the invention of hardtops for cars. 

    Folks, hard tops weren’t invented for cars. Hardtops antedated cars. Hardtops were used previously on horse-drawn buggies.

    In Europe, where automobiles were invented, automobile manufacturers originally built chassis with engines, transmissions, and wheels. If you wanted a body on your chassis, you had to buy that separately. 

    Naturally, the folks who made bodies also made bodies for horse-drawn carriages. In fact, the names we still use for car bodies — spyder, berlinetta, berlina, coupe, etc — are the exact same names we used to use for horse-drawn carriage body types.

    This system lasted in Europe through the 1950s. Into the 1960s, you could still buy a VW with a German Karmann body, designed by the Ghia design firm of Italy, or a Ferrari with a Scaglietti body designed by the Pininfarina design firm. Indeed, you could buy American cars with bodywork designed by Pininfarina and built by Ghia, too. 

    Yes, we call ‘station wagons’ here what they call ‘estate wagons’ or ‘shooting breaks’ over there; but those were the same names we used for horse-drawn wagons before there were ever cars.

    PS — Apple did NOT rip off Xerox-Park for their GUI (oh, and by the way — a GUI is NOT an operating system). Go look at both GUIs, Xerox-PARC’s and Apple’s, before you claim that. The only people who still say Apple stole the Xerox-PARC GUI have no real computer experience, as far as I can tell.

    • Slipstream

      The story of Steve Jobs and entourage heading over to Xerox for a look at their GUI and mouse, and then making them the centerpiece of their products, is now in the category of received cultural knowledge.  How did it happen if not that way?

  • A non-Applephile

    Apple is arguably the best marketing company in the world.  Over the years I have given up talking to non-tech savvy Applephiles who tout such incorrect statements as Apple invented the smartphone, Apple invented the touchscreen, Apple invented the mp3 player, etc.  None of these is true. 
    They are great marketers and have many loyal fans, but they aren’t the most innovative technology company, and they themselves have stolen lots of ideas.

    During today’s show one of the guests commented on how Steve Jobs had this intense passion because he wanted to merge phone and computer technology.  Um, yeah.  I had Nokia and Sony Ericsson smartphones years before the Iphone came out that had internet, apps, and other computer technology–I could even watch TV on my cell!  One cell phone I bought in 2005 not only had internet, tv and mapquest apps, but also was an mp3 player, and had a digital camera (most people at the time had flip phones, and didn’t even text).

    As far as I can tell the only thing new about the Iphone was that it’s touchscreen didn’t require a stylus, unlike previous touchscreens like PALM PILOTS (um, yeah, does anyone else remember that Palm Pilots were rectangular with a flat screen and slightly rounded corners…?).  Additionally, years before the Iphone came out, there was a big competition in the cell phone world with various companies working on their capacitive or resististive touchscreens and the race was to see who could get theirs to market first.  I can’t remember if Apple was the first, or they just SEEMED like the first with their flashy launch, but either way, their touch-screen competition was already being manufactured.

    I hate hypocritical, monopolizing, large companies such as Apple.

    • Mike Card

      Something that has been glossed over is John Scully’s contribution while he was Apple’s CEO.  He came from Pepsico and introduced the idea of actually selling the products, rather than concentrating on impressing other geeky, Home Brew Computer club types.  After the power struggle, Scully finally ousted Jobs–even though Steve had hired Scully.  Remember Next?

      When Jobs made his triumphant return, he brought along his adoring minions, and pretty much continued along the route of making a hash out of Apple until the iMac and iPod, 10 years ago, but 15 years after Jobs returned from exile. 

      As a tech company, it was headed for the junk heap until they re-read Scully’s business plan and decided that this pop salesman might actually have had some worthwhile ideas.

      These “patent wars” are what now passes for technological innovation.  Armies of musty lawyers–scriveners, really–amass millions of arcane patents of doubtful worth, and file suit after suit after suit.  This, btw, is the sink hole down which corporate money that could be used to–dare I say it?–train or re-train their labor force disappears.

  • LaurenceGlavin

    Sometime in the 1950s, Philco brought out a TV consisting of a box with the electronic innards and a picture tube supported by a column that rested on the box, sort of like PCs decades later and most average-size TVs today.

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  • Isabel

    Apple has a lot of nerve. 20 years ago, Research in Motion, developed a PalmPilot that looks an awful lot like the iPod. In fact, one of their last Palms was a white, rectangular, round cornered, big screen Palm.  It would be easy to confuse the two.

    • Guest

       Palm Pilot that looked like iPod… Hmmmm.
      By the way, Palm Pilots were produced by Palm Inc, asubsidiary of U.S. Robotics.

  • Isabel

    Here is a version of the Palm Pilot that RIM introduced about 20 years ago…looks a lot like an iPod….hmmmmm

  • Mnowak

    The current patent system stifles innovation.

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  • beathan regan

    My S III, is da bomb)!  I want to launch a new patent application and patent a box on 4 wheels. 

  • Steel Dragon

    I’m very glad that Steve Jobs didn’t patent the missionary position. 

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