Apple Just Got Clearance to Wage War on Ultrabooks

In the patent war of life, you need all the ammo you can get.

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) was just granted a broad design patent covering the overall look and physical appearance of the MacBook Air. The wedge shape and tapered profile of the laptop has largely set the design tone for Intel's (Nasdaq: INTC  ) big Ultrabook push, partnering with a handful of PC manufacturers to challenge Apple in the thin-and-light laptop space.

Much like the Mac maker was awarded numerous design patents for the overall aesthetic of the iPhone, which it promptly hurled in frenemy Samsung's general vicinity, Apple now owns the distinct shape of the MacBook Air that has spawned countless copycat Ultrabooks. Design patents are largely based upon drawings and illustrations, and would be found to infringe if an offending device looks "substantially similar" to an "ordinary observer" to the design patent.

The solid lines are what are actually covered in the patent, while the dotted lines are for additional context.

Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

That's bad news for Hewlett-Packard (Nasdaq: HPQ  ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , among others, whose recent Ultrabooks bear an uncanny resemblance to Cupertino's wares. When HP unveiled its ENVY Spectre XT notebook last month, it chalked up the similarities to a natural convergence of design philosophy rather than an overt attempt to mimic Apple. Dell's XPS 13 also takes some clear cues, as do OEMs like Asus and Acer.

Source: Product images from Apple, HP, Asus, Dell, and Acer.

Source: Product images from Apple, HP, Asus, Dell, and Acer.

I would imagine that Apple is already preparing its patent offensive against Ultrabooks to begin counting down. Ready, aim, fire!

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (2)

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 June 09, 2012, at 10:03 PM, applefan1 wrote:

    Uh oh.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2012, at 11:23 PM, Oldfool103 wrote:

    Just create your own products without mimicking what the competition looks like or how it works. Give me a reason, other than Windows 8, for buying your hardware. (PCs have been doing this since Mac bought the first iteration of their OS from Parc.) Stop stealing Apples' products!

    Written on a Mac Air

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2012, at 11:36 PM, ConstableOdo wrote:

    That won't hold up in court. Apple never wins those copycat design lawsuits. Since those competitor products are already in production, the judge will probably give them a free pass saying that Apple is in the wrong for trying to enforce the patent and that it is hurting consumers and fair competition. That's what usually happens with Apple.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2012, at 12:05 AM, steltek wrote:

    I have a Sony VAIO from 2002 that has this exact shape. Apple is not an innovator and this is further proof. The Treo played music and movies and browsed the web almost 8 years before the iPhone was even released. The Diamond Rio was a handheld mp3 player 5 years before the iPod. Packard Bell (and many other companies) named their products iStuff in the 90's, then Apple copied it 5 years later. HP had a tablet PC in 2002, about 8 years before the iPad. 5 years in tech is a LONG time.

    Apple is good at using their marketing muscle and legal bullying to convince the masses that they are "innovators." Real innovations do not come from these big companies. They don't dare do any real innovation, because that is too risky. They watch the innovative startups, see what appeals to the masses, then take the designs, make minor cosmetic changes, and proclaim it their own. Is there really someone out there who thinks this is an unique design? What have they added to the 20 year old notebook form? Tapering? Really? That's never been done? Give us a break.

    Support real innovators, not the bullies who copy stuff and make cosmetic changes, rename it, and go on the offensive legally. A decade ago it was Microsoft stealing everything - Netscape, et al. These days, Apple is the king of the "steal, re-skin, and attack" methodology.

    Your dollars are your votes. Vote for ethically sound companies.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2012, at 12:21 AM, winklerf wrote:

    This is another example of Apple trying to patent optimization rather than a method of realizing that optimization. For a thin notebook computer to be of minimal size and weight and maximum strength, a triangular cross-section in the base works best because only a small part of the region contains electronics that need to be of any particular thickness and there is a limited need for somewhere to have ports which require more thickness than is necessary in the entire computer.

    Most importantly, there is prior art, which suggests that the triangle has been recognized as valuable long before Apple filed this patent in Oct 2010. The original MacBook Air wasn't a wedge. The current configuration has changed from the original. Further, a quick search on the internet led to me finding the Dell Inspiron Mini 10, which was a wedge and was reviewed in January 2010, before Apple's filing. I also own an HP notebook from late 2006 that is also wedge shaped. It isn't easy digging up old computers, so my guess is that the wedge shape has been around for quite a long time and is not an Apple innovation.

    There is, quite simply, nothing valid in this patent. Thin is clearly simple optimization, and a wedge shape is a marginally more complex optimization which pretty much all of Apple's competitors will be able to demonstrate has been done a lot longer than this patent that should never have been granted has existed.

    This is the case of a moron at the USPTO that can't tell the difference between the non-patentable optimal form all manufacturers of a type of hardware are trying to attain and the patentable methods for achieving that form. Thin wasn't a new idea with monitors or with cell phones, and the wedge shape is nothing new in notebook computers. It makes no sense that Apple pursues these obvious optimizations with a significant history of prior art in their patents and is granted them. I seriously doubt any of them will actually stand up in court.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2012, at 3:08 AM, austec wrote:

    APPLE NEEDS TO SUE THE PANTS OFF INTEL FOR ESSENTIALLY PAYING APPLE'S COMPETITORS TO MAKE MACBOOK AIR CLONES.

    Last I checked, Intel is spending hundreds of millions on pushing everyone to rain Ultrabooks on Apple.

    It is bizarre that Intel would pay everyone to attack a valued customer. Regardless of why, Apple needs to fight back.

    Sue Intel into a pulp, Apple!

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2012, at 3:36 AM, demodave wrote:

    Steltek and Fidgewinkle, you need to consider the possibility that prior art and what you have seen in the marketplace may not be one and the same. "Prior Art" can be defined by lab notebooks that have been dated and countersigned in private. It's not a mindlessly simple as you two appear to be.

    Regardless of any of that, Apple's industrial design wins customers. The cheap knockoffs don't go after customers until Apple has proven a market. That may sound lame, but let's look at sales, gross margins, etc. Clearly, Apple is doing something right, and if you look at the timing of introduction of all these new (current) designs that you claim have been around "forever" ("ultrabooks" or *shivers* netbooks), you will see that Apple precedes them. Apple is doing something way better than they are.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2012, at 8:35 PM, Klippenstein wrote:

    @austec

    Apple copied Microsoft by adopting Intel chips/technologies. Microsoft is not "copying" Apple, with Windows 8, they are going way beyond Apple by integrating a tablet and PC software.

    So get over it. Apple will be fine, because Apple people are will pay anything to stick with Apple products. It Android tablets that will probably be dead in the water after Windows 8 launch.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2012, at 9:13 PM, LS960 wrote:

    This whole debate is ridiculous. This is like patenting the shape of an ordinary book. The constraints of physics limits the design of many common products and the shape of a laptop, ultrabook, macbook air, etc. is a perfect example. Designers have mocked up designs for ultrasleek MBA-like designs a decade before MBA. The only thing holding those designs back were hardware restrictions (component size and TDP) back then. Now that they are feasible across the industry, everyone should be given the opportunity to advance technology as previously envisioned. Apple was merely the first to pull off the first mass production commercial design that became wildly popular. There is nothing innovative in the design itself. I am neither a PC fanboy nor an Apple fanboy, but the Apple fanboys on here need to chill out.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2012, at 10:25 PM, Risky88 wrote:

    I agree

    OMG someone criticized apple

    lets start a world war because we think we are the best even though we are not!!

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