Is This Lawsuit Defense Patently Ridiculous?

Did you know that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) did not originate the design of the iPad but actually stole it from the classic 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey?

True or not, that's what Samsung Electronics claims in its defense against Apple's patent infringement lawsuit.

 Apple is suing Samsung in a U.S. District Court, claiming Samsung's Galaxy tablet computer infringes on Apple patents, some of which cover the "unique and novel ornamental appearance" of the iPad. That appearance includes its black face and a rim surrounding a flat screen, as well as the iPad's use of icons.

HAL: I'm sorry, Dave...
Samsung included in its court filing references to the Stanley Kubrick film 2001, which shows two astronauts eating a meal while watching tablet computers that, according to Samsung, meet the same description of the iPad that is in Apple's patents.

Apple is also using the courts to try to stop Samsung from selling its Galaxy smartphones and tablet computers in Europe, Australia, and South Korea. Samsung has agreed to postpone sale of its tablet in Australia until the end of September.

A Dutch court recently barred Samsung from selling and distributing several of its smartphone models. The ban applies only to the Netherlands, but it will have a larger impact on Samsung's European distribution network, as the Netherlands is an important hub.

Earlier this month, a German court issued a temporary injunction against Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Europe. However, in a rare mea culpa, the same justices reversed their decision, essentially saying that the court didn’t have jurisdiction outside of Germany. These patent battles are quite the tangled web.

Patent envy
The big tech companies have been in an expensive patent acquisition race of late. They see this as necessary to stave off potential patent infringement lawsuits. Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) recent $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI  ) was seen by many to be more about buying Motorola's 17,000 patents than about acquiring its handset manufacturing capabilities. There were rumors that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) was also looking at Motorola.

And there are companies out there -- such as RPX (Nasdaq: RPXC  ) -- whose sole purpose is to buy patents in order to lease them out to tech companies as a form of anti-lawsuit insurance.

What hath Apple wrought?
How can a flat screen surrounded by a rim be something unique to the iPad? That sounds like quite a reach to me. If Apple prevails with its worldwide "look and feel" patent defense, would that put all other tablet computer makers out of the game? I think the iPad is a great piece of equipment, but I would prefer there always be a viable competitor. How else to keep the technology giants from stepping on us?

If you have an opinion on this whole patent business, I'd like to hear it. Just leave a comment below. In the meantime, you can keep track of any of these companies by putting one, some, or all on your Watchlist.

Fool contributor Dan Radovsky has no financial interest in the mentioned companies.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2011, at 3:13 PM, theHedgehog wrote:

    The great Robert A. Heinlein chose to spend far too many resources fighting patent applications for water beds; which he first introduced in the novel "Beyond This Horizon" in 1942. The Patent Office seemingly only looks at whether a thing has been previously patented, not whether it's actually a novel idea that is not currently in use by professionals or whether it's been detailed in literature. It's a mess; a ponzi scheme that should be torn down.

  • Report this Comment On September 15, 2011, at 6:37 PM, imyoung wrote:

    "How can a flat screen surrounded by a rim be something unique to the iPad? That sounds like quite a reach to me."

    The European Union (EU) recognizes the legal right to protect the look and feel of a product from imitation, called 'community design.' Apple did register its iPad design with the EU in 2004. Would it be a reach to you if the Chinese produced a car that looked exactly like a Ford Mustang, showing a Mongolian horse on the grill (not a mustang!) and called the car by the Mongolian name of 'Aduu?'

    Apple's lawsuit in Germany only concerned itself with the design of the iPad for a very practical reason: it is easier and faster and to prove an infringement on design than a violation of Apple’s technical patents. Apple’s lawsuit and the subsequent injunctions by the court in Düsseldorf prevented Samsung not only from selling it in Germany but Samsung had to withdraw their newest version of the Galaxy from the world’s largest trade show of consumer electronics, the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) Berlin that took place from August 31 to September 5, 2011.

  • Report this Comment On September 16, 2011, at 11:25 AM, XMFDRadovsky wrote:

    imyoung,

    Thank you for your comment.

    As I type this, in my office at Fool HQ, I am looking at a Dell monitor with a flat screen surrounded by a rim.

    When I am working at home, I watch my words appear on an Apple monitor which has a flat screen that is surrounded by a rim.

    Does that mean either Dell or Apple is the only company that has the rights to produce a flat screen monitor surrounded by a rim?

    The example you give of a Mongolian car that looked "exactly" like a Ford Mustang except for a different horse on the grill and a different name, is not quite far.

    I think a better demonstration of the Apple-Samsung action would be if the Mongolian company produced a car with a body, four wheels, a windshield, a rear window, doors with windows, a hood, and a trunk -- and then Ford, let's say, sues the Mongolian company for infringing on Ford's "look and feel" patent for a car.

    Best,

    Dan

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2011, at 11:56 AM, cattywampus wrote:

    Hyperlinks are great. Although this post is dated and will probably never be read I felt compelled to enter it. In the back off my mind when iPad was first advertised i2 thought of the scene in 2001.

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2011, at 3:57 PM, gpickles wrote:

    I read your post, Cattywampus! :)

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2011, at 11:40 PM, A2Matty wrote:

    I know this is old but was just reading up on RPX thinking about purchasing...I just had to add a comment. I was playing with my 16 month old daughter today and played with a toy that had a flat screen surrounded by a rim - it looks as though the "Ohio Art Company" may have a patent lawsuit victory coming their way...all of these new gizmos seem an awful lot like the Etch-a-Sketch!!!

    The "look and feel" defense is hilarious if nothing else.

    -and I read all your posts - you're not typing in vain! lol

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