During the exhaustingly long legal battle between Apple and Samsung, the latter frequently made a point of claiming that Apple didn’t own a patent on “rounded rectangles.” The argument served as an interesting way to misdirect people from the real patents at stake – highly specific design patents that Apple actually did possess, and which Samsung was found to have clearly copied.
Much to Samsung’s inevitable dismay, it turns out that now Apple really does have a patent for a rounded rectangle! Ars Technica reports:
On Tuesday, after review by a patent examiner, the United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded Apple an additional design patent relating to the iPad’s “ornamental” design. The ornamental design feature encapsulated in US Patent D607,286 for a “Portable display device” appears to be a literal rounded rectangle. But whether or not this patent would be useful against Apple’s rival and alleged “copy cat” Samsung in court is unclear.
While it’s unclear how much impact or force this will have in Apple’s ongoing legal struggle against Samsung, it’s worth noting that design patents are typically very narrow, and that almost all companies file them to account for the specific shape and form of their products. An Ars Technica commented summed the matter up quite well, stating:
I think most people don’t understand what it means that this is a design patent - it’s not the same thing as a “regular” patent (a utility patent). Design patents allow a company to get an exclusive right to the form of a functional object so that a 3rd party can’t make a different device with identical appearance (well, not legally at least). Almost every company that puts the time into making a distinctive shape for their devices gets one: Microsoft has one for the Xbox, George Lucas got one for Yoda etc.
Design patents are extremely narrow – you have to do your level best to copy them exactly in order to be found in infringement. Plus, they specifically cannot cover functionality – that has to be covered by a utility patent, if it’s going to be protected. This design patent only protects a “portable display device” (that’s the wording in the Patent itself), and only one with those specific design elements that are shown in the Patent Figures.
Whether or not this ends up having much bearing on Apple’s legal case, it’s at the very least amusing to think that Apple was just awarded the very patent Samsung claimed they didn’t (and couldn’t) have – a rounded rectangle!