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.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.