Steve Jobs pledged to go “thermonuclear” in Apple’s battle against Google’s Android and device manufacturers like Samsung who he claimed ripped off the iPhone and iPad designs. But bringing a patent fight to court comes with significant risks:
Several Asian manufacturers were noodling around with similar-looking rectangular smartphones before the iPhone came to market. Tipping its hat to a fellow Korean manufacturer, Samsung notes that in 2006, nearly a year before the iPhone appeared, LG Electronics (066570) announced the round-cornered LG Chocolate, with ‘virtually all of the [design] features Apple claims’ to have patented. In December 2006, before Apple released images of the iPhone, Samsung itself filed a design patent in Korea for a similar rectangular phone called the F700. Smartphone and tablet-computer design was ‘naturally evolving’ in the direction Apple claims it has exclusive rights to use, according to Samsung. If true, that matters because basic patent law states that if an idea is ‘obvious’ to an ‘ordinary observer’ at the time of its invention, it doesn’t deserve patent protection. By attacking Samsung, Apple has inadvertently put its own patents into play.