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March 21 2013


Google’s Motorola wins patent for octagon smartphone shape

If you thought the era of silly shape patents was over, don’t hold your breath. Months after Apple used a patent for rounded rectangles to chase away iPad competitors, Motorola has received a patent for an eight-sided cellphone design.

The Patent Office approved the new “invention” this week and the news was first reported on Twitter by Professor Sarah Burstein:

Burstein, who is a design patent expert at the University of Oklahoma, explained that her “rounded octagon” comment was tongue-in-cheek but confirmed that the patent had been granted and that it covers the displayed shape of a smartphone.

She added that the scope of Motorola’s design patent is more narrow than Apple’s infamous rounded rectangles patent. Here is a picture from Apple’s patent:

Rounded rectangles screenshot

To successfully invoke its new patent against an infringer, Burstein said Motorola would have to show that a consumer would find the supposedly infringing product has the same design as Motorola’s design.

The “rounded octagon” patent is likely to add more grist for critics who question the wisdom of granting monopoly protection over basic shapes and concepts (14 years for design patents, 20 for regular ones). This year, a new law in the U.S. has made it easier to obtain design patents, which are cheaper and faster to get than regular patents. Meanwhile, companies like Apple continue to use a variety of other intellectual property measures like trademark, trade dress and copyright to wrap legal force fields around their products.

The new patent may provide new ammunition to Google, which owns Motorola, in its ceaseless rounds of patent litigation with Apple and other rivals in courtrooms around the world.

The patent can be seen at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Unfortunately, the USPTO’s website only permits images to be viewed with Internet Explorer, Netscape or Opera browsers. If you’re using another browser, here’s a PDF link.

Related research and analysis from GigaOM Pro:
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August 13 2012


The Apple Roundup: Microsoft got iOS license with promise not to copy

With so many people writing about Apple, finding the best stories and reports isn’t easy. Here’s our daily pick of stories about the company from around the Web that you shouldn’t miss:

  • Apple revealed during a courtroom session in its Samsung trial today that it’s licensed some of its iOS design patents to Microsoft, but with the agreement that Microsoft not try to use them to clone any Apple devices, Reuters reports.
  • Technology Review looks at how far iPhone security has come since 2007. With app sandboxing and device encryption today, it is so secure that it’s mostly impossible for law enforcement to search iPhones for forensic evidence.
  • Like clockwork, BGR gets wind of AT&T wireless memo banning employee vacation from the third or fourth week of September through mid-October.
  • Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has been predicting the arrival of an Apple television for years, yet no such device has materialized. Dan Rayburn of StreamingMedia.com wonders why people still take Munster’s predictions seriously.
  • Apple’s already killed the optical drive in the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Computerworld looks at the evidence that Apple may be killing the optical drive in more Macs pretty soon.

August 01 2012


July 29 2012


Judge in Apple-Samsung case says patent drawings can ‘speak for themselves’

A judge sided with Apple on Friday, saying she would not provide detailed  instructions to a jury about how to interpret patent drawings that lay out claims to the iPad and iPhone. Instead, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said it would be up to the jurors to use “the eye of an ordinary observer” to decide if Korean phone maker Samsung copied the drawings.

The ruling represents one of the final skirmishes before a closely-watched trial set to kick off Monday in San Jose near Apple’s headquarters. The California trial is the biggest showdown yet in a global struggle in which Apple is carpet-bombing Samsung with intellectual property claims in the hopes of removing Samsung products from store shelves and forcing it to pay massive damages.

The decision that the drawings can “speak for themselves” is significant because it means the judge will not, as Samsung had hoped, provide detailed legal instructions about how to decipher the patents. Instead, the jurors will be asked to base their decision on the overall design and to give “such attention as a purchaser usually gives.”

The drawings in question are from four Apple design patents. Each patent contains between two and 48 drawings that are used to illustrate how Apple owns features like the shape of the iPad and the black-colored surface of the iPhone (the three iPhone-related patents can be found herehere and here while the iPad one is here ). Here are some examples of the drawings the jurors will consider (note that the judge will, however, instruct them that the dotted lines indicate that Apple is not claiming that part of the design) :

The ruling that the jurors’ should decide based on the overall impression of the drawings may strengthen Apple’s case that Samsung copied its designs. But if they do find copying, Samsung could still be off the hook if the jury (again acting as an “ordinary observer”) decides the patents are obvious based on earlier tablet and smartphone designs. For instance, Samsung is arguing that Apple itself lifted design ideas from these Sony prototypes:

The design patent dispute is just the most high profile part of a case that also features a complicated mix of other intellectual property claims such as utility patents, trade dress and more. The trial, for which jury selection is to begin on Monday, will also address whether Apple infringed Samsung’s patents. Apple claims Samsung’s claims fail because they are based on so-called FRAND patents which companies must license because they part of an industry standard.

Koh on Claim Construction
(Image by nokhoog_buchachon via Shutterstock)

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