Apple and Samsung: The Design Patent Wars Continue



In late June, Apple won one of the many battles that it is waging against one of its fiercest rivals - South Korea’s Samsung, manufacturer of the Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets. Riding the wave of Google’s Android platform, Samsung has emerged as the world’s biggest handset maker, and arguably Apple’s biggest rival. Apple and Samsung are entagled in more ways than one, since Samsung also manufactures the A5 chipset that powers the latest models of iPad and iPhone. As the saying goes “Keep your friends close and keep your enemies closer.”

Apple’s latest win resulted in an injunction barring sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab in the US. That decision is being appealed. Meanwhile in the UK, Apple was ordered to publish a notice that Samsung did not copy the iPad. That decision is being appealed too. All of this is part of a global war (including AustraliaGermany and the Netherlands) that stems from Apple’s claims that Samsung copied the design of the iPad. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the case - that worldwide IP infringement claims can be based on the design of a consumer product, not its function. And it’s a design that is successful precisely because of its clean, minimalist simplicity that eschews ornamental features of any kind. Check out this design patent (PDF), filed in 2004, upon which the US injunction is based, in part. The two companies are currently headed to a jury trial in the US.

Lessons for business?

  • Don’t forget to review relatively simple forms of intellectual property in your IP strategy. In this case, a simple industrial design (or in the US, a “design patent”) has provided ammunition in a battle between two of the most sophisticated technology companies on the planet.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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