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In case you've missed any patent-related news over the past several months, Apple and Samsung are still at each other's throats over a heated and out of proportion legal tiff. Apple is claiming Samsung devices infringe on numerous patents, especially in the design department. The original Galaxy S (international) is one area of interest, but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has taken the blunt of the blow. Apple has been granted injunctions in Germany and Australia on the 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab. Samsung brought the updated Galaxy Tab 10.1N forward in Germany and the ban in Australia is slated to be lifted on December 9th, pending Apple's appeal.

To summarize the whole ordeal, it is a mess and banks on the popularity of Apple's products (read: the lack of product knowledge of other companies by court officials and average consumers). The whole situation is a bit silly and to be honest, the injunctions probably never should have been granted in the first place. I'm no patent or legal expert. Far from it, actually. But if the alleged "infringements" were strictly related to design and form factor, Apple's case it petty and baseless.

Essentially, Apple is stating that Samsung did not have to copy their design elements to create the Galaxy products, other designs were possible. Samsung has countered, alleging that there are no other logical designs that could have been used. Of course, both sides of that argument rests on what your definition of a logical tablet design may or may not be, and whether you believe the Galaxy Tab actually infringes on the design of the iPad.

Through the analysis of what Apple's US patents for the iPad and iPhone cover, though, Apple has composed a list of possible workarounds – or alternative design elements that aren't covered by their patents – for Samsung. The first set of possible alternative design elements are for smartphones:

  • Front surface that isn't black
  • Overall shape that isn't rectangular, or doesn't have rounded corners
  • Display screens that aren't centered on the front face and have substantial lateral borders
  • Non-horizontal speaker slots
  • Front surfaces with substantial adornment
  • No front bezel at all

Below is Apple's list of alternative design elements for Samsung tablets:

  • Overall shape that isn't rectangular, or doesn't have rounded corners
  • Thick frames rather than a thin rim around the front surface
  • Front surface that isn't entirely flat
  • Profiles that aren't thin
  • Cluttered appearance

Basically, if you read these suggestions as I do, Apple is telling Samsung to create thick, ugly, bulky, non-black, non-rectangular smartphones and tablets with cluttered appearances.

Wait ... seriously?

I'm at a loss for words. Shocked, you could say. First of all, these suggested alternative designs are moronic, to say the least. Apple was not the first company to create a tablet computer and they were hardly the first to implement a rectangular shape in either smartphones or tablets. Apple's iPad was first released in March of 2010. Microsoft partners started the original tablet trend (if you want to call it that) in 2002 after Microsoft announced a set of specifications that would qualify a laptop-like, touchscreen machine a tablet. And what general shape were they? Rectangular with rounded corners.

All Apple did was shrink the thickness, clean up the overall design (i.e.: remove buttons, expandable memory slots and other useful ports), include modern chipsets and slap their mobile operating system on it instead of a full-fledged operating system.

In terms of their smartphone, the iPhone, it was hardly the first of its kind either. As Zach Epstein of BGR pointed out, the original iPhone (and even more recent models) shares a lot of design similarities with the LG Prada of 2006. Samsung's Galaxy phones look no more like the iPhone than the iPhone resembles the Prada. (The TouchWiz interface in comparison with the iOS interface is a different story for a different time. We're talking hardware, here.)

Sure, other designs are possible. But are they logical? Take laptops, for example. There are thousands upon thousands of different laptop models, and they all look generally the same. They are all relatively the same size, shape and have mostly the same design – a rectangular device with a display and keyboard attached at a hinge to form a portable book-like computer. Other designs are clearly possible, yet you don't seem HP throwing a childish fit because Toshiba's latest PC looks just like theirs.

If other designs are possible, why has Apple only taken existing designs and manipulated them to make them unique? It's all a bit hypocritical of Apple to even suggest anyone is ripping their design. And even if Apple isn't suggesting Samsung make a Pyramid tablet like Dunder Mifflin (can you imagine Web browsing on that thing), is their only argument that Samsung can't create visually appealing devices without infringing on their patents?

What say you, folks? Do you feel there are other designs to be explored? Is Samsung in the wrong here? Or are Apple's suggestions plain ludicrous? How unpleasing would content built for rectangular devices be on a non-rectangular device?

Image via AllThingsD


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