Is Samsung’s Galaxy Tab really an Apple iPad clone?

by , Conversation Editor Technology 10 August 2011
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Samsung must cease sales of its latest tablet in Europe. Why? A German court has upheld Apple’s complaint that Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 is an iPad lookalike. But doesn’t an iPad just look like any other tablet?

Apple vs Samsung with businessmen

In a victory for Apple, a preliminary injunction has been granted to stop the sale of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Germany. It could soon stretch EU-wide.

Apple accused Samsung’s new Android tablet, which launched in the UK on 4 August, of ‘slavishly’ copying the iPad 2 and ‘stealing’ the company’s ideas.

Although Apple has filed patent infringement cases against the Korean manufacturer, this injunction concerns something slightly different. This is specifically about the iPad’s design-related intellectual property, or what it looks and feels like, rather than any specific patent.

In short, Samsung’s tablet looks too much like an iPad. Apple even cites a similar ‘rectangular product shape with all four corners uniformly rounded’. Yet, it’s hard to see how you can avoid a tablet being a rectangular slab. So why isn’t Apple going after every other tablet manufacturer out there?

Why are you after Samsung, Apple?

The first answer to that question is, Apple isn’t only going after Samsung. Florian Mulluer at FOSS Patents today discovered that Apple is also suing Motorola for its Xoom tablet in Europe.

You might have thought the second answer was that Samsung is now Apple’s biggest tablet and smartphone competitor. But really, I think it’s because Apple genuinely believes Samsung has tried to duplicate the iPad as close as it possibly can.

However, even though Samsung has certainly kept its offerings close to the “look and feel” of Apple’s iPhone and iPad, is this enough to impose an EU-wide injunction? I don’t think so.

Is Samsung trying to pass off its tablets as iPads? No – they are quite clearly different products. Is Samsung trying to borrow a little bit of Apple’s tablet limelight? No doubt – but I don’t think it’s trying to create an iPad lookalike.

And that’s the crux – this design lawsuit seems a little too general. Can you really claim to own the intellectual property rights of a rectangular slab?

Isn’t a tablet just a tablet?

Moreover, Apple didn’t invent tablet PCs, nor how they look. Tablets were around for years before Apple entered the market. It might have a better claim for inventing the look of today’s smartphones, but even that’s kind of clutching at straws.

Tablets look like tablets and smartphones look like smartphones – in a competitive market products simply start to look like one another. It’s down to the manufacturer to differentiate themselves. Or as Glyn Moody (@glynmoody) told us on Twitter, ‘If Apple has a better product, it will win anyway’.

You don’t see microwave or fridge freezer manufacturers suing each other for making similar white box containers. Plus, in the tech market, most PCs and laptops look exactly the same – I couldn’t imagine Samsung going head-to-head with Dell over laptop design.

The way of the world among tech manufacturers, including Apple, is to watch the competition, steal ideas and try to better them. Even Apple boss Steve Jobs said in 1996, ‘We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.’

Apple might be a tad different from other tech manufacturers in that its brand feeds off the iconic and unique product designs it creates to differentiate itself from others. At least, that’s usually the case. To me, the iPad is neither unique or iconic. It’s black, it’s rectangular, it’s… a tablet PC.

18 comments

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John Drinkwater

No.
It looks like a tablet, as does this Apple device and EVERY SINGLE TABLET BEFORE IT.

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rarrar

There were even rugged portable computers like the Husky which were rectangular with rounded corners a few decades ago.

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wavechange

All this competition is providing a lot of jobs for lawyers, and consumers end up paying the bill.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or something like that.

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Sam

Never mind the curved edges, all these devices make essential use of public science research from the last 200 years. Meanwhile, while they waste millions debating who thought up curved corners, state science is being underfunded.

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wavechange

I have a lot of sympathy for Sam’s view, though it is fair to say that a lot of research depends a lot on grants from industry. Nowadays, universities are much more careful about IP rights, so that universities and staff involved in industrial research can benefit for successes.

I have not studied this case but it seems that rounded corners are a pretty obvious development and as such should not be relevant to a patent.

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apple

A video looking at the newspaper of the future from 1994, including a tablet device: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBEtPQDQNcI

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Nigel C

There are commercial examples going as far back as the 80s… Look up the “GRiDPad” — it even has “iPad” in the name!

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wavechange

A colour, flat-screen device in 1994? I don’t think so.

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Nigel C

My 1994 IBM ThinkPad laptop had a colour screen, so that’s not surprising. That having been said, I have to agree that the tablet in the video is probably a mock-up… The image is super-imposed on the tablet display — “I can tell from some of the pixels and from seeing quite a few shops in my time.” ;)

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wavechange

And if the IBM had rounded corners it could probably have been described as magical, if Mr Jobs will let me borrow his description. :-)

So the injunction has now been suspended in all countries except Germany. You can read more about this on FOSSPatens: http://fosspatents.blogspot.com/2011/08/galaxy-tab-101-injunction-suspended-for.html

Interesting development, and I’m intrigued to see what happens next. Seemed a little odd for a German court to be able to impose an EU-wide injunction in the first place.

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Terry Carter

I’m writing this on my Galaxy 10.1 & it’s significantly different to the ipad! As you said in your article, ” what other shape could a tablet be?” Apple are upset because this is real competition at last! I tried an ipad2 & preferred this one, not because of the shape but what it will do!

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Bokonon

Tablets come in bottles and you take them to cure health problems OR Moses brings them down from the mountain saying “Good news and bad news, guys. I got him down to ten but Adultery’s still in.”

Flat computers are flat computers. The iPad is a flat computer best used in a flat.

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Mammabint

Ive taken weeks researching both before committing to buy one, I chose the Samsung, the day the injunction was served! It strikes me that Apple must be pretty worried about the competition.

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Rifdhi

Apple is now sweating in it’s pants. Finally a real competitor. Galaxy Tab 10.1 is far better than the iPad2. Apple just cannot accept it. Besides the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 can run Adobe Flash player, which the iPad1/iPad2 cannot. I was planning on waiting for the iPhone 5 but now have decided to get the Samsung Galaxy S2 instead. I’ll never buy Apple products again. Come to think of it they simply cannot get things right the first time. Messed up the aerial on iPhone 4, crap camera on ipad2. Apple does not even have video calling to any device unless the person at the other end also uses an Apple product. Nokia had video calling feature to any phone back in 2004 with the Nokia 6630. Hope Apple pay a billion dollars in compensation to Samsung. That’ll teach them. Lol.

In an amusing turn Samsung has now referenced Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odessey film as a ‘prior art’ against Apple’s iPad patents – due to tablets in the film http://fosspatents.blogspot.com/2011/08/samsung-cites-stanley-kubricks-2001.html

Turning into a bit of a circus isn’t it?

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wavechange

Now if Kubrick had specified round corners…. Try again Samsung.

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Ken Hill

So why is Apple allowed to behave in a “holier than thou” attitude? Look at old episodes of Star Trek DS 9 and Voyager, and they are using flat, rounded corner pads well before Apple “invented” (not) the iPad. The courts should not be pandering to the stupid injunctions that are a blatant attempt to spoil competitive marketing and consumer product choice. It appears that the Apple/Microsoft legacy is continuing with the usual meglomaniac attempts to dominate the world with its products.
Apple should instead, be concentrating on the Chinese,(almost legalised), faking of all its products which will damage its reputation, quality, and vast wealth.

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