Apple vs Samsung is set to go to court in the USA on Monday. Apple is taking Samsung to court for patent infringement and copying Apple designs. Based on court filings, it has emerged one of the ways Samsung will defend itself is by using Apple’s own medicine against it: Accusing Apple of copying a competitors design. Specifically, Apple is being accused by Samsung of copying Sony’s designs.
In 2006 BusinessWeek interviewed Takashi Ashida and Yujin Morisawa, two Sony product designers. In the interview the designers were asked about things like Sony’s design philosophy, how/if the iPod influenced Sony’s design, challenges faced with the newly designed Walkman player, etc. Samsung alleges this interview was circulated internally to Apple executives and eventually made its way to Steve Jobs. Upon seeing the article and Sony’s Walkman design, Apple designer Shin Nishibori was ordered to come up with a similar looking product, and he did just that. Here is the story in Samsung’s own words, as per the court documents:
Right after this article [BusinessWeek's interview of Sony designers] was circulated internally, Apple industrial designer Shin Nishibori was directed to prepare a “Sony-like” design for an Apple phone and then had CAD drawings and a three-dimensional model prepared. Confirming the origin of the design, these internal Apple CAD drawings prepared at Mr. Nishibori‘s direction even had the “Sony” name prominently emblazoned on the phone design, as the below images from Apple‘s internal documents show:
Soon afterward, on March 8, 2006, Apple designer Richard Howarth reported that, in contrast to another internal design that was then under consideration, Mr. Nishibori‘s “Sony-style” design enabled “a much smaller-looking product with a much nicer shape to have next to your ear and in your pocket” and had greater “size and shape/comfort benefits.” As Mr. Nishibori has confirmed in deposition testimony, this “Sony-style” design he prepared changed the course of the project that yielded the final iPhone design.
Basically what Samsung is doing is arguing Apple copied Sony hence Apple’s claim that Samsung copied Apple is nullified since Apple’s designs aren’t original themselves. Samsung’s lawyers proclaim:
“Samsung has used the very same public domain design concepts that Apple borrowed from other competitors, including Sony, to develop the iPhone.”
Only time will tell if Samsung’s argument sways a jury. However, it must be admitted, if what Samsung alleges turns out to be turn, Apple’s mockups are fairly damaging. That said, as InfoWorld points out, the Apple mockups did not look like any Sony phones at the time. Also, Apple’s mockups appear to relate more to the iPhone 4 design than the original iPhone 2G design. These two facts may go in Apple’s favor.