Samsung tablets not 'cool' enough to infringe Apple design, says UK judge

The iPad is an understated, smooth and simple product, the judge said

Samsung tablets do not infringe on a registered Apple design because "they are not as cool" and the Galaxy Tablets "do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design," a U.K. judge said in a ruling on Monday.

Samsung sought a declaration that three of its tablet computers, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Galaxy Tab 8.9 and Galaxy Tab 7.7 do not infringe on Apple's registered design that describes the shape of the iPad. The Samsung tablets and the iPad had to be seen as members of the same family, rather then the same devices, Judge Colin Birss said in his ruling.

"Samsung products are very thin, almost insubstantial members of that family with unusual details on the back. They do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool. The overall impression produced is different," and therefore Samsung tablets do not infringe on the Apple design patent, he concluded.

"When I first saw the Samsung products in this case I was struck by how similar they look to the Apple design when they are resting on a table. They look similar because they both have the same front screen. It stands out," the judge noted. But to the informed user, Apple's iPad design belongs to a family of designs. The iPad resembles earlier designs from Wacom, Showbox and Flatron, among others, the judge wrote. "They are not identical to each other, but they form a family."

The Galaxy tablets are very similar to that design, using the same screen with a flat glass plate and a thin rim with a plain border under the glass. Neither Apple nor Samsung designs have indicator lights or buttons on the front, or any obvious switches or fittings on the other surfaces, he said. While Samsung uses some subtle buttons on the edges, they do not contribute to the overall design impression.

"There is an overall simplicity about the Samsung devices albeit not as extreme as the simplicity of the Apple design," according to the judge. Both the Apple design and the Galaxy tablets appear to float above the surface on which they rest, however the details of the side edges are not the same, the judge added. The Apple design has a pronounced flat side face, which the informed user would clearly see and feel, while it is absent from the Samsung tablets, the judge continued.

There are, however, two major differences between Apple's and Samsung's tablets, Judge Birrs found. "The most important difference between the Samsung Galaxy tablets and the Apple design is the thinness of the Galaxy tablets. The next most significant difference is the detailing on the back of each tablet," the judge wrote.

He only weighed whether the Galaxy Tab 7.7 infringed, since that tablet has the least visual prominent detailing. If the Galaxy Tab 7.7 does not infringe, then neither does the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the Galaxy Tab 8.9, because they use more detailing on the back, and those sort of details would strike the informed user as unusual.

Apple reiterated its standard reply when asked for a comment about the ruling: "It's no coincidence that Samsung's latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging. This kind of blatant copying is wrong and, as we've said many times before, we need to protect Apple's intellectual property when companies steal our ideas."

Samsung said in a statement that it welcomed the judgment. As the ruling proves, the origins of Apple's registered design features can be found in numerous examples of prior art, the statement read. "Should Apple continue to make excessive legal claims in other countries based on such generic designs, innovation in the industry could be harmed and consumer choice unduly limited."

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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