On March 17, 2004, Apple Computer, Inc. filed patent D504,889. This patent was granted on May 10, 2005. The patent claims “the ornamental design for an electronic device, substantially as shown and described below.” Looking at the patent, the picture is a rectangular device with rounded edges. This is Apple’s design of their iPad. It should be noted that this patent is on the design, not on a device. Thus, the International Trade Commission (ITC) gave Apple a patent on a rectangular design for an electronic device.
Rectangles have been present long before patents. The United States’ first patent statute, the Patent Act, was passed in 1790. It is safe to assume that rectangles were present before the passing of the Patent Act. Thus, the rectangle is nothing new. Additionally, the rectangle is used in many electronic devices. For example, modern television screens and laptop computers have a rectangular design. Because many electronic device manufacturers have used the rectangle in technology, the rectangle’s use is not innovative and is common place in the electronic device industry. Despite this, the ITC granted Apple’s patent.
On June 27, 2012, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was banned because it violated Apple’s D504,889 patent. California district Judge Lucy Koh stated that “[a]lthough Samsung has a right to compete, it does not have a right to compete unfairly, by flooding the market with infringing products, … As a patent holder, Apple has a valid right to exclude others from practicing Apple’s invention.” It would be ridiculous to find that Apple invented the rectangle or was the first to invent a device with a rectangle. Would a consumer confuse an Apple iPad with a Samsung Galaxy Tab when the Galaxy Tab has a large metal Samsung logo and Google logo on the back of the device?
Apparently, jurors did not share Judge Koh’s view when it came to the Galaxy Tab 10.1. On August 24, 2012, Samsung lost a monumental case to Apple when the jury awarded Apple $1,049,343,540 in damages. While Samsung infringed on various patents, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was found not to have infringed on the D504,889 patent. On September 28, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sent the case back to Judge Koh to make a determination. Hopefully, she lifts the injunction.
Many people are upset with Apple claiming that Apple is inhibiting competition and is frivolously filing patents that show no innovation. However, should we point our finger at Apple, a company that is just taking advantage of the patent system, or should we point our finger at the patent system itself? I point my finger at the patent system and the ITC for granting a patent on a rectangular design.