Samsung: Apple’s iPhone is a Sony Design Ripoff!

Samsung: Apple’s iPhone is a Sony Design Ripoff!

As Apple and Samsung’s  July 30th jury trial continues to draw closer, all sorts of interesting documents and images are beginning to circulate – including some interesting design prototypes for the iPhone and iPad.

Also making the rounds is a new argument from Samsung, alleging that Apple’s iPhone 4 and 4S design is a ripoff of some of Sony’s design elements, making Apple as big of a “copycat” as they claim Samsung is. The argument centers around a 2006 interview with Sony designers Takashi Ashida and Yujin Morisawa  published in Businessweek.

The article describes Sony’s design philosophy as revolving around simplicity and to “do away with excessive ornamentation.” Samsung’s claim is that Apple used that idea as a central philosophy in designing the iPhone.

AllThingsD reports, quoting a section from Samsung’s actual argument:

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.. [pictured above]

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.

Interestingly, the interview did not picture any of Sony’s actually products. Samsung’s claim is that Sony’s comments in that interview set the course for Apple’s iPhone designs – not that they copied a physical design or ripped off a software interface. Samsung, on the other hand, has apparently directly copied (or at least been heavily “influenced” by) both physical and interface ideas from Apple (ex: 123456, 78, etc.).

It’s also especially interesting to note that the interview actually directly references how Sony was inspired by Apple – not the other way around. When asked how the iPod affected Sony’s design, Moriswa responded (emphasis added):

When I started this project, that [the iPod] was my concern. 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. […]

Arguing that the entire design of the iPhone is the direct result from some brief comments from another designer is an absurd argument – especially considering that Apple has been known for simplicity since long before 2006. Can Samsung demonstrate that nothing they ever read or heard contributed to any of their designs?

Yes, it’s a bit odd that Apple included Sony’s brand name on one of their internal mockups. But it’s an outrageous leap to move straight from that into a claim that Apple wrongfully ripped off Sony’s designs in any meaningful sense.

Laughable, Samsung. Laughable.