Google, others, reportedly warned Samsung not to copy Apple designs

As Apple and Samsung head to trial over patent and trade-dress issues, internal documents suggest Samsung was warned by Google, their own product design group, and others to be make their devices more distinct from Apple's. John Paczkowski, writing for AllThingsD, reports:

  • In February 2010, Google told Samsung that Samsung’s “P1” and “P3” tablets (Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Tab 10.1) were “too similar” to the iPad and demanded “distinguishable design vis-à-vis the iPad for the P3.”
  • In 2011, Samsung’s own Product Design Group noted that it is “regrettable” that the Galaxy S “looks similar” to older iPhone models.
  • As part of a formal, Samsung-sponsored evaluation, famous designers warned Samsung that the Galaxy S “looked like it copied the iPhone too much,” and that “innovation is needed.” The designers explained that the appearance of the Galaxy S “[c]losely resembles the iPhone shape so as to have no distinguishable elements,” and “[a]ll you have to do is cover up the Samsung logo and it’s difficult to find anything different from the iPhone.”

Samsung plans to show that Apple too derived their designs from previous products, including Sony, and that Samsung was working on similar designs previous to the iPhone.

From phone casings to interfaces to accessories it would impossible to look at Samsung's work up until recently and think they weren't deliberately making their stuff look like Apple's. The question's ultimately -- does that matter? Fridges, TVs, cars, home theater components, etc. all look remarkably similar from one vendor to another. There are entire industries where knock off products are prevalent. Should phones or tablets be any different?

On one hand, we like to think that if we had a great, innovative idea and spend a lot of time and money bringing it to market, someone else couldn't just wait in the wings, copy it, and potentially steal our success. And if they were allowed to, it might make us less likely to keep spending time and money on innovation, because copying is easier.

On the other hand, almost everything is a remix. Almost all ideas have come before. The talent and skill is knowing what to copy and how to bring it all together and make it a best-in-class product that becomes a mainstream success. Yet arbitrating focused, tasteful copying and lazy, slavish copying doesn't exactly sound like the work of a court.

Google is now saying Apple's iOS technology has been so successful, it should be considered a de facto standard. Samsung and others are still arguing they should be allowed to use their standards-essential patents to combat Apple's proprietary patents, and Apple is saying they shouldn't have to be the inventor for the world.

If Palm decided to wade into the patent and trade dress wars, how well would Apple fair? If HTC started putting our gear that looking almost identical to the Galaxy S3 or Galaxy Note, down to the naming conventions, icons, and power adapters, would Samsung legal be okay with that?

Source: AllThingsD

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Its interesting how Samsung fans insist this is all Apple's doing, even in light of Google themselves warning them not to be lazy and copy Apple. Whether or not this is court worthy, someone has to stop companies from flat out copying each other. Apple isn't perfect in this, but Samsung brought this on themselves by being lazy. The fact that some people still insist there is no copying is a testament to true blind fanboyism.
  • Ah "fanboy"... The first sign that you're out of touch and nothing else you say matters. It's derogatory and unneeded. Again, the most valuable company on the planet, ever, didn't get that way because of a few rabid "fanboys". No, they made something the world wanted. Your use of the term shows your own ignorance. Sorry, just sayin.
  • Ah, the "fanboy defense"...The first sign that you're out of touch and nothing else you say matters. You obviously have poor reading comprehension, when you use your post to defend Apple, and accuse the previous poster of ignorance, when (s)he was actually pointing out that there are Samsung fans, insisting on Samsung's innocence. So no, Samsung did not make something the world wanted, and your response shows your own ignorance. Sorry, just sayin.
  • Call me stupid but I just can't work out what the bits below are....
    [c] [a]. They are in the paragraph in the article.
  • Words, or in this case, letters, surrounded by brackets, are generally used in print media to denote something added by the author in order to clarify that which was omitted by the original author. In the instance above, the original author(s) may have inadvertently left off the "c" in "closely" and the "a" in "all", but were added back by Rene. Hope this helped :)
  • I wouldn't mind samsung's copying so much if they'd stop using cheap plastic on their high-end devices. I had a prepaid Alltel Samsung flip phone (the Hue) that was made of sturdier plastic than my Galaxy Tab 10.1, which creaks like a Big Lots mp3 player around the edges and especially around the charger port. Tho to be fair, my Tab doesn't randomly shut off and reboot as much as my old Hue used to.
  • Even though newer Samsung devices no longer look like Apple knock-offs, they are still copying Apple in more subtle ways. They could have gone with the new ICS button layout, but instead of swapping the menu button for multitasking, they kept multitasking as a home button function. That combined with s-voice activation makes the GS3 home button functionality remarkably similar to iOS.
  • I still find it interesting that the thing nobody else was able to do before Apple came along, should somehow now be considered the de facto standard. It's ridiculous. If it was such an obvious move, why were we all stuck with the Motorola Q or a Palm Pilot of some sort?
    No, Apple invented this and made the wise move to protect its ideas. Samsung tried to play the copy and profit game, but got stopped. Now they're ticked off because they got called to the mat on this. The answer has always been as simple as "invent your own sh*t"....
  • "Invent your own sh*t" becomes impossible when some of the patents in question are so broad as to prevent any implementation whatsoever -- that is the only problem most of us have with Apple's patent behavior. Most of the patents Apple sues over are for concepts, not specific technologies. For example, Apple argues its "data tapping" [ ] grants it exclusive right to generate a hyperlink in an unstructured document. In other words, the very concept of an email client seeing 888-555-1212 and deciding it is an actionable phone number is disallowed, or seeing is an email address is disallowed. This sort of patent is not an technology or invention; it is a conceptual process, and patents should not be allowed or usable in this way. Today, Samsung is under the gun. Tomorrow, it will be Apple. It already is, in China, where Apple faces an infringement suit because Siri (allegedly) uses a robotic chat mechanism [ ]. If the Chinese courts and then the ITC rules that Shanghai Zhizhen has an exclusive patent over robotic chat systems, should Apple be enjoined from releasing Siri and told to "invent their own sh*t?" If not, why not? Edit: In the first paragraph, an extension on my web browser interprets 888-555-1212 as a phone number, creates a link, and has done this for years. Had this been a mobile context rather than a desktop web browser, Apple would certainly argue this exact same violates their "data tapping" patent.
  • Can't a patent be rejected for being too broad? I tend to agree with your argument, partially. For something like data tapping, I feel should be (at the very least) covered under FRAND. But for Samsung to blatantly copy the iPhone 3G[S] and the iPad (at least, it is perceived that way), they should have the book thrown at them, because I believe it was an attempt to fool would-be iOS customers.
  • In theory, patents *can* be rejected for being too broad, but in practice, they rarely are, and it is expensive enough to challenge on that grounds that companies often settle. Remember, this is a system that allowed a patent on swinging sideways on a swing [USPTO, ] and on the wheel [Australia, ] More realistically, NTP took to court to protect their patent on wireless email delivery. They have no products, nor any working implementation, but years ago they patenteed the process. Of email. Delivered Wirelessly. RIM argued in court these patents were overbroad, and lost $612.5 million. Rather than fight a patent on email delivered wirelessly, here are the others who decided to settle and pay license fees last week [ ]: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, Apple, HTC, Motorola Mobility, Palm, LG, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. It did not matter *how* the email was delivered wirelessly, the mere fact that it travelled without wires was enough to make it infringing. There is no argument that justifies granting a monopoly on a concept like that. Apple is different than NTP because Apple actually invents and makes *products* worthy of protection, but unfortunately the main patents they are wielding in these cel phone fights are as airy and conceptual as NTPs. It is going to bite us all in the ass when everybody else follows Apple's lead and realizes the only way to run a business is to patent as many vague concepts as possible.
  • Damn you are great.
  • Edit: Comment deleted and added inline to earlier comment, where it belongs
  • Re: "Google is now saying Apple's iOS technology has been so successful, it should be considered a de facto standard." What a joke. Sony's Trinitron picture tube technology was extremely successful between 1966 and 1996 (when the patent expired.) It made Sony the world leader in televisions during that period. And did Trinitron become a "de facto" standard because of its extreme popularity? You get one guess. (Hint: the answer is not "yes.")
  • The difference was that Trinitrons comprised an actual range of specific implementations that accomplished a result. They patented the tube, not the picture. That can and should be protected. Some of Apple's filings patent the picture, not the tube. Apple's patents on data tapping and pinch to zoom patent the result of a process, e.g. a string of text interpreted as a link, rather than any technology that accomplishes it. An equivalent Trinitron hypothetical would be if SONY's patent claimed ownership over reproduction of moving images with a threshold level of color fidelity. That is the crucial difference. The Trinitron patents allowed any competitor to try and come up with an implementation with as good of a picture as a Trinitron. SONY had a deserved advantage, but competitors will welcome to try and beat it, as long as they used other means. Apple's patent is vague enough to forbid *any* interpreting a string of characters as a phone number in a mobile context.
  • "From phone casings to interfaces to accessories it would impossible to look at Samsung's work up until recently and think they weren't deliberately making their stuff look like Apple's. The question's ultimately -- does that matter? Fridges, TVs, cars, home theater components, etc. all look remarkably similar from one vendor to another. There are entire industries where knock off products are prevalent. Should phones or tablets be any different?" - very good point, however you said the key word yourself "accessory" phones have become so personal in comparison to a fridge or a tv. social standards have gotten so infused with technology that so much is based on what you have and use. how many people (including im sure you everyone at times) has judged someone by the kind of phone they have? not in a bad way. but you see a nice new phone on someone. or an old rickety flip up phone. everyone has that friend that gets laughed at for having a phone older than 4 or 5 years. thats why this will always continue to be a debate.
  • If that report is true and Samsung was warned about copying Apple by Google, you can bet that the next Nexus Phone will not be a Samsung. It is likely to be a Motorola, and that Motorola will not look anything like the iPhone (None of them do).
  • Why is it that most American (and/or Canadian) bloggers struggle with basic grammar?
    "Google, others, reportedly warned Samsung not to copy Apple designs" should actually be written as "Google and others reportedly warned Samsung not to copy Apple designs".
    A small, but very important difference.
    Rene, if you struggle with grammar and are intent on continuing with writing, take a course.
  • Actually, since the emphasis of the headline was on Google, the title is correct. For example:
    "Rene, along with 7 others, writes for iMore."
  • You proved my point and contradicted yourself in your reply. Using your quote as an example, Rene's emphasis missed out the key words "along with", rendering it a title with no emphasis at all.
    Again, using your example, only a lazy or inept writer would use "Rene, others, write for iMore" since the singular/plural no longer makes sense.
    Basic English.
  • From fashion to household appliances and cars everything is used as a basis for someone else's creations. Apple has made remarks that they too take inspiration from others designs and yet they seem to imply others should feel privileged that they do so. My goal is to purchase the best technology that meets my needs, design is but one aspect of the product. Apple puts more emphasis on it but without the internal technology (3G UMTS, WiFI, NFC, solid state storage,etc, etc) Apple would have NOTHING, yes nothing at all. I have yet to see Apple design or present a solution into the FRAND world beyond the microSIM which to me is stupid, (oh yeah we cut some plastic off so its totally new and highly valuable). Apple did NOT create the tablet market as some sites seem to state as fact, Microsoft was the lead in that, perhaps, no in fact MS was way too early with their products to gain the level of traction they needed today. Bill Gates has this belief that everyone wants a full blown computer for a tablet (some may and some may not). But Apple simply built upon that concept, they did not invent it. So why should Apple's trade dress be so special that they can sue for billions of dollars when the fashion, household appliance and automotive industry can't. I don't see anyone suing over the "Push To Start" button in the cars. It certainly has become more popular.
  • I think it is reasonable to say that a dress, pair of shoes or even a particularly distinctive car (say a Ferrari Testarossa) has a look so distinctive that the its image defines its value, but even in the case of the Tesarossa, that notion feels a bit hollow. If Apple have a house style it is minimalism - a "form follows function" approach. The move to a phone operating system allowed iPad to be slimmer and lighter, but compromised functionality. Thus the tablet is largely self defining and potential customers are mainly drawn to the function of the device. The "trade dress" legal approach, along with the bogus air of injured innocence from Apple, rings more hollow than a three dollar bill. Not those lovely two dollar bill pads Woz carries. Dear Apple please realise the "minimalism design" ball is communal, you cant take it home like a spoiled child and expect to play with the other children next time. Drop the attitude and grow the F*** up.