Battle of the tablets: both sides win? Or both sides lose?

9 July, 2012

The latest twist in the worldwide running battles between Apple and Samsung has been won by Samsung, as the Patents Court in London ruled that Samsung’s Galaxy Tab doesn’t infringe Apple’s registered design for the iPad. The IPKat blog has a good write-up here, and the decision itself is here (.docx).

The test for whether a product infringes a registered design is whether it “produces on the informed user a different overall impression” from the registered design. Judge Birss QC held that, while the two companies’ tablets look “very, very similar” from the front (para 184), the “informed user” would also look at the sides and the back of the device – and here, the Samsung tablets were, Judge Birss considered, very different.

That said, I doubt that Samsung will be rushing to draw customers’ attention to how Judge Birss expressed this difference:


The informed user’s overall impression of each of the Samsung Galaxy Tablets is the following. From the front they belong to the family which includes the Apple design; but the 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.

“They are not as cool”: probably the first time those words have formed the basis for an English judge’s decision!

So the result can be seen as a mutually Pyrrhic victory. Samsung wins its case, but only because its products are “not as cool” as Apple’s; while Apple’s design values win the endorsement of an English judge, but it finds itself unable to enforce its UK registered design against an increasingly significant competitor.