Samsung cited “2001: A Space Odyssey” as prior art in its opposition to Apple’s injunction request, as the South Korean company works to dismiss its rival’s patent infringement accusations.
Samsung says the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film depicts tablet-like devices, arguing they existed as a concept before Apple patented its iPads and iPhones. The Korean manufacturer insists its Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets never copied the “look and feel” of Apple’s products, as the Cupertino, Calif.-based company alleges, instead suggesting it borrowed their design from popular culture.
The clip Samsung references shows two astronauts eating a meal while watching videos on flat, rectangular screens. While otherwise unremarkable, this scene may fulfill the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s stipulation that “a design which simulates a well known, or naturally occurring object or person is not original as required by the statute.”
In other words, the Patent Office forbids people and companies from licensing broad, widely recognized concepts and objects. Whether the judges in this case agree that Kubrick’s film scene constitutes a “well known, or naturally occurring object,” however, remains to be seen.
If Samsung succeeds in persuading the court Apple’s design patents are invalid, the Korean company may avoid the threat of injunction and extract itself from several lawsuits. Apple earlier requested the International Trade Commission ban Samsung’s Galaxy line in the U.S. and also has cases pending in Australia and Europe. Untying this legal tangle would free Samsung to pursue its business outside of court, besides saving it from making possible royalty payments to Apple.
If Apple succeeds in debunking Samsung’s “Space Odyssey” argument, however, the company will gain even more traction in the legal campaign against its rival. If Samsung fails to convince courts that its Galaxy line does not copy Apple’s products, Apple may be able to more easily engineer bans on Samsung devices and thereby force the company’s hand regarding royalty payments.
A win for Apple would also prove that its evidence is strong, especially in light of accusations by a Dutch columnist for IDC that alleged Apple doctored a side-by-side photo of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad to make them look more similar than in real life.
Apple denies the accusation, saying the pictured devices do have differences but says they are “trivial and legally insignificant.”
“A product infringes a design patent even if it differs in several details, so long as an ordinary observer would view the overall appearance to be substantially the same,” Apple’s legal counsel states.
Whether or not Samsung’s use of “2001: A Space Odyssey” is strong enough as evidence in its own defense remains to be seen, especially as it struggles to keep its devices on worldwide shelves in spite of Apple’s legal attacks.
No matter who was first to design the smartphones and tablets in question, both companies are a little late to the game, judging by Kubrick’s vision. His futuristic movie is set in 2001, but Apple sold its first iPad nine years later.