The complete guide to why Apple is sueing Samsung


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During the past year there’s been a huge influx of technology companies suing one another. Microsoft, HTC, Motorola, Google, Samsung and Apple, to name but a few, are some of the key players involved in 2011’s ongoing patent wars.

For instance, did you know that HTC has paid Microsoft $150 million in royalties since 2010? Of course you didn’t. But that’s because HTC settled with Microsoft out of court and agreed to pay a royalty of $5 to Microsoft for every Android handset it sells.

And while Apple attempting to sue an Android manufacturer is hardly anything new – it’s tried its luck with both HTC and Motorola in the past. The plot is definitely thicker this time round, as Samsung is one of Apple’s major components suppliers – Samsung built Apple’s A4 and A5 chips, for instance.

Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO, has downplayed the effect that this on-going lawsuit will have on Apple and Samsung’s relationship, claiming that business links between the two companies are still ‘very valued.’

Not so, says Reuters. According to its report, ‘The intensifying patent dispute threatens to strain a lucrative supply relationship: Apple in 2010 was Samsung’s second-largest customer, accounting for $5.7 billion of sales tied mainly to semiconductors, according to the Asian consumer electronics company’s annual report.’

When asked about the Samsung/Apple lawsuit, Cook said that ‘Samsung had crossed the line’ by copying Apple’s intellectual property (IP) in its Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab devices, reports Electronista.

He added that Apple attempted to ‘resolve the issue’ amicably, which presumably means Samsung paying Apple money and licensing its designs, but this came to no avail and in the end Apple ‘decided to use the courts.’

Apple’s claim

‘Apple claims Samsung’s Galaxy range of smartphones and tablets use a number of technologies and design characteristics first patented by Apple for the iPhone and iPad,’ reports The Telegraph. The exact details of Apple’s grievances with Samsung are detailed exhaustively in Apple’s formal complaint, which was submitted to a US federal court. You can download the document here.

The document outlines 16 instances where Samsung has infringed on Apple’s design and hardware patents. The document is long, containing over 300 pages, detailed in its claims and contains both pictures and renders of specific iDevices and Samsung models.

But if you don’t fancy reading the entire thing yourself you can read our summary below, which details all the complaints made by Apple about Samsung.

Trade Dress Infringements
Intellectual Property in the New Technological Age defines Trade Dress as ‘a legal term of art that generally refers to characteristics of the visual appearance of a product or its packaging signify the source of the product to consumers.’

Apple owns Trade Dress registrations for the ‘design and appearance of the iPhone, the iPod touch, and the iPad, together with their distinctive user interfaces and product packaging,’ claims the document. According to Apple, Samsung is guilty of violating its trade dress registrations in the following ways:

  • A rectangular product shape with all four corners uniformly rounded
  • The front surface of the product dominated by a screen surface with black borders
  • As to the iPhone and iPod touch products, substantial black borders above and below the screen having roughly equal width and narrower black borders on either side of the screen having roughly equal width
  • As to the iPad product, substantial black borders on all sides being roughly equal in width
  • A metallic surround framing the perimeter of the top surface
  • A display of a grid of colourful square icons with uniformly rounded corners
  • A bottom row of square icons (the “Springboard”) set off from the other icons and that do not change as the other pages of the user interface are viewed.
  • A rectangular box with minimal metallic silver lettering and a large front-viewpicture of the product prominently on the top surface of the box
  • A two-piece box wherein the bottom piece is completely nested in the top piece and use of a tray that cradles products to make them immediately visible upon opening the box

Apple also owns three Trade Dress registrations for the ‘design and configuration of the iPhone,’ according to page 12 of its official compliant. These registrations in are explained below:

  • U.S. Registration No. 3,470,983 ‘is for the overall design of the product and refers to the rectangular shape, the rounded corners, the silver edges, the black face, and the display of sixteen colourful icons.
  • U.S. Registration No. 3,457,218 ‘is for the configuration of a rectangular handheld mobile digital electronic device with rounded corners.’
  • U.S. Registration No. 3,475,327 ‘is for a rectangular handheld mobile digital electronic device with a grey rectangular portion in the centre, a black band above and below the grey rectangle and on the curved corners, and a silver outer border and side.’

Apple claims that ‘Samsung has chosen to slavishly copy Apple’s innovative technology, distinctive user interfaces, and elegant and distinctive product and packaging design.’ This is most evident in Samsung’s Galaxy range of smartphones and tablets, which Apple is attempting to block from sale.

Apple cites the Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab are the most obvious examples of this. Looking at the two devices side-by-side, we can kind of see what Apple is getting at – the iPhone and the Galaxy S are remarkably similar.

Apple also claims that several of Samsung’s TouchWiz UI app icons for phone, settings, photos, notes and contacts are too similar to the ones present in iOS. Apple owns the trademarks for these icons, which it claims Samsung had nefariously copied in its TouchWiz UI.

Here are Apple’s registered icon trademarks: 

  • iOS Phone app icon (No. 3,886,196)
  • iOS Photos app icon (No. 3,886,200)
  • iOS Settings app icon (No. 3,889,685)
  • iOS Notes icon (No. 3,886,169)
  • iOS Contacts icon (No. 3,886,169)

Here are Samsung’s, which Apple claims infringe on its registered designs:


Nº 4: Common law trademark infringement – This claim made by Apple basically reiterates all of the above points. It’s a big, all encompassing claim, which, if passed, could cause Samsung a lot of trouble. But what does common law trademark infringement mean? 

According to The Intellectual Property Office, ‘If you use an identical or similar trade mark for identical or similar goods and services to a registered trade mark – you may be infringing the registered mark if your use creates a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public.’

It continues: ‘This includes the case where because of the similarities between the marks the public are led to the mistaken belief that the trade marks, although different, identify the goods or services of one and the same trader.’

One of Apple’s key claims is that ‘Samsung’s use of the infringing application icons enables Samsung to benefit unfairly from Apple’s reputation and success, thereby giving Samsung’s infringing products sales and commercial value they would not have otherwise.’

And looking at the icons in question, such as iTunes, we think Apple’s lawyers stand a good chance of persuading the court that Samsung is, indeed, in breach of Apple’s trademarks.


Nº 5: Unfair business practices under the California Business and Professions Code – Again, this claim builds on the gain already set by the prior allegations and seeks to show the court that what Samsung has done is engage in unlawful business practises. The main difference with the allegation is that it is California-specific – it’s not federal.

Here’s the crux of what Apple claims:

‘The above-described acts and practices by Samsung,’ claims Apple, ‘are likely to mislead or deceive the general public and therefore constitute fraudulent business practices in violation of California Business & Professions Code.’

According to This is My Next, ‘This is a state-level version of the trade dress and trademark claims – it’s there to pick up the pieces in case the federal claims somehow don’t pass muster.’

Nº 6: Unjust enrichment – Unjust enrichment is when one party (Samsung, in the case) profits or benefits at the expense of another (Apple). But how can this be? Apple is the biggest technology company in the world. Surely little old Samsung couldn’t do it any harm?

Well, as it turns it, Apple doesn’t see it this way. In fact, Apple is adamant that Samsung has cost it untold millions by copying its devices, designs and icons.

‘Samsung has infringed and continues to infringe one or more claims of the ’022 Patent by using, selling and/or offering to sell, in the United States and/or importing into the United States, one or more of the Samsung mobile communication devices identified in this Complaint. Samsung’s infringing activities violate 35 U.S.C. § 271,’ claims Apple.

The patent infringements

Apple owns all of the below patents. According to the claim document, Apple feels that Samsung is illegally using its patented technology, as well as its designs and styling. These patents are split into two distinct groups: Utility Patents and Design Patents.

We’ve also included an extract from the official patent filing, which details what the specific patent entails.

Utility Patents

‘Apple’s utility patents cover many of the elements that the world has come to associate with Apple’s mobile devices,’ claims the document.

It continues: ‘these include patents covering fundamental features of the Multi-Touch user interface that enable Apple’s devices to understand user gestures and to respond by performing a wide variety of functions, such as selecting, scrolling, pinching, and zooming.’

Nº 7: Infringement of the ’002 patent – Method and Apparatus for Displaying and Accessing Control and Status Information in a Computer System

This utility was invented by Steven W. Christensen and is described as follows on the official filing: ‘An interactive computer-controlled display system having a processor, a data display screen, a cursor control device for interactively positioning a cursor on the data display screen, and a window generator that generates and displays a window on a data display screen.’

Nº 8: Infringement of the ’381 patent – List Scrolling and Document Translation, Scaling and Rotation on a Touch-Screen Display

‘In accordance with some embodiments, a computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a device with a touch screen display is disclosed. In the method, a movement of an object on or near the touch screen display is detected. In response to detecting the movement, an electronic document displayed on the touch screen display is translated in a first direction.’

Nº 9: Infringement of the ’134 patent – Method and Apparatus For Displaying Information During An Instant Messaging Session

‘A method and an apparatus are provided for controlling a graphical user interface to display information related to a communication session. Information relating to data produced by a first participant to the communication session is displayed on a first display unit, wherein the information produced by the first participant is displayed at a first position on the first display unit.’

Nº 10: Infringement of the ’828 patent – Ellipse Fitting For Multi-Touch Surfaces

‘Apparatus and methods are disclosed for simultaneously tracking multiple finger and palm contacts as hands approach, touch, and slide across a proximity-sensing, multi-touch surface. Identification and classification of intuitive hand configurations and motions enables unprecedented integration of typing, resting, pointing, scrolling, 3D manipulation, and handwriting into a versatile, ergonomic computer input device.’

Nº 11: Infringement of the ’915 patent – Application programming interfaces for scrolling operations

‘At least certain embodiments of the present disclosure include an environment with user interface software interacting with a software application. A method for operating through an application programming interface (API) in this environment includes transferring a set bounce call.’

Nº 12: Infringement of the ’891 patent – Method and apparatus for displaying a window for a user interface

‘Methods and apparatuses to display windows. In more than one embodiments of the invention, a window is closed automatically (e.g., after a timer expires, or when a condition or criterion is met, or a system input is received) without user input. In some examples, the window is translucent so that the portion of another window, when present, is visible under the window. In some examples, the image of the window is faded out before the window is closed and destroyed.’

Nº 13: Infringement of the ’533 patent – Cantilevered push button having multiple contacts and fulcrums

‘A cantilevered push button adapted for accepting an input on an electrical or electronic device is disclosed. The button can include an elongated button top component disposed about an exterior surface of an electrical or electronic device such that it is accessible to a user, and having two opposing distal ends associated with separate user inputs.’ This is referring to the volume rocker, in case you didn’t know.

Design Patents

The final three claims made by Apple, according to the document, concern a trio of Apple’s design patents. According to TMN, ‘the rule for design patent infringement is relatively simple: if the two designs are substantially similar enough to trick an ordinary person into thinking they’re the same, it’s probably an infringement.’

Apple claims that Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones and tablets look too similar to its iPhone and iPad devices. But is Apple in the right? Legally speaking, yes. Any company, large or small, is always encouraged to protect its intellectual property.

Lets look at the three design patents in more detail:

Nº 14: Patent #D627, 790: Graphical User Interface For a Display Screen or Portion

This is essentially a patent for Apple’s iOS homescreen. Below you can see why Apple has claimed that Samsung has infringed on its patent.


Nº 15: Patent #D602,016: Electronic Device

This patent covers the iPhone 3G/3GS design, which presumably also covers Apple’s iPod as well. This patent does not cover Apple’s Home button. It’s just for the shape of the device.


Nº 16: Patent #D618, 677: Electronic Device

Last but not least is the patent that covers Apple’s Home button. This patent does not cover the shape of the device, nor the display. But that’s covered in the previous one anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. In short: Apple has complete ownership of the iPhone design, shape and buttons.

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