John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Apple’s iPhone Has Sony Style, Says Samsung (Full Trial Brief)

Apple’s “revolutionary” iPhone design wasn’t an original creation, but a derivative one, and the company is just as much a “copyist” as it alleges Samsung to be. That’s one of the central arguments the Korean company will make against Apple when the pair’s patent trial kicks off next week.

The foundation of the argument is a 2006 Businessweek interview with Sony product designers Takashi Ashida and Yujin Morisawa. According to the Korean company, it was this article that established the iPhone’s original design direction. It was passed around internally by Apple Senior Vice President Tony Fadell to CEO Steve Jobs and design guru Jony Ive, among others, and certain points made in it were used to inform early drawings of the device.

In its trial brief, Samsung lays out its own version of the iPhone creation story:

Right after this article 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.

A contentious accusation, and a clear potshot at Apple, which prides itself on its design acumen. But does the article Samsung cites support it? That’s questionable.

The news peg for the piece was the then-newly-launched Walkman NW-A1200, its design and lack of excessive ornamentation. And, interestingly, the remark on which Samsung’s argument is based was made in response to the question, “How much did the iPod influence your design?”

Here’s Morisawa’s answer to that question:

The idea was to do away with excessive ornamentation. … I looked at the first Walkman [which debuted in 1979]. Then I thought, “How can I give shape to the music?” Music doesn’t have shape; it’s flowing. I was listening to music and waving my hand in the air. I thought there shouldn’t be an end to its lines. So I started drawing a round shape, and I kept moving the line. My team had shown me their sketch: It was a square with a screen and buttons. Most other players have a screen and buttons. My first mock-up didn’t have buttons. I didn’t want buttons.

And from that, Samsung argues, Apple’s designers came up with the mock-up above and, ultimately, the iPhone’s final design, as well.

Seems quite a stretch, doesn’t it? Morisawa’s remark is quite broad. Apple has long been known for its Spartan designs and minimalist products. And Steve Jobs was infamous for his distaste for buttons. Claiming that the iPhone’s design is derivative of another designer’s comment is going to be a tough argument to make.

But that’s not Samsung’s end game here. What the company is doing is working to establish that there is prior art enough to undermine Apple’s claims that it “slavishly copied” the iPhone. If the iPhone is “Sony style” in its design, then Apple has no right accuse Samsung of cribbing from its work. As the company’s legal team writes in its brief: “Samsung has used the very same public domain design concepts that Apple borrowed from other competitors, including Sony, to develop the iPhone.”

Below, Samsung’s trial brief in its entirety:


Samsung’s Trial Brief


Apple versus Samsung Full Coverage

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik