Samsung: tablet-like device in movie invalidates patent

Samsung says Kubrick owns tablet design, not Apple

Here's an interesting defense in the Samsung-Apple patent battle: Samsung claims iPad-like tablets have already been established as "prior art," thanks to a scene in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If you're not up-to-date on the patent battle, here's what's going on: Apple claims that Samsung's Galaxy line of phones and tablets infringes on Apple's intellectual property. Among other things, Apple says the Galaxy line's "trade dress" or visual appearance is too similar. Well, Samsung disagrees--and they're pointing to 2001: A Space Odyssey as justification.

In one of the Space Odyssey scenes, two astronauts are eating together. Each has a thin, tablet-like display next to his meal tray. Because the film was released in 1968--long before Apple designed the iPad--Samsung argues that Space Odyssey establishes iPad-like tablets as "prior art," thereby invalidating one of Apple's patents.

"As with the design claimed by the D'889 Patent, the tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table's surface), and a thin form factor," Samsung's legal team writes.

This curious legal argument was noticed by Florian Mueller, who writes about technology at the FOSS Patents blog.

"It would be amazing if the court agreed with Samsung that this constitutes prior art for that particular iPad-related design patent," Mueller writes.

I'm not a patent lawyer, so I'm not sure whether it's possible to cite science fiction as "prior art" in an intellectual property lawsuit. Either way, I see one other flaw in Samsung's argument: At no point in the film clip do either of the astronauts interact with their displays. The so-called tablets act only as portable video monitors, not touch-screen computers.

But this is just one exhibit among many that Samsung filed as part of its defense, so I doubt it'll have much bearing on the U.S. District Court's decision. Let's just take it for what it is: a bizarre nod to geekiness in what is otherwise a very serious matter for Samsung and Apple.

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Jared Newman

PC World (US online)

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