Most of the time, arguments surrounding prior art and obviousness come from lawyers and their drummed up experts in court cases. It's also pretty common for us regular folk to discuss these matters. What isn't common, however, is to have someone who actually worked on a product that makes up prior art and/or proof of obviousness in important and possibly far-reaching legal cases provide his or her view.
Nik Cubrilovic worked on the CrunchPad project (he even built prototypes), and thus, can offer interesting insights into this matter. "[The CrunchPad] was an attempt to build a cheap tablet computer and we started the project a full two years before the iPad was announced. Apple is attempting to patent protect features of a design that we had published years before the iPad was announced. Our own designs were inspired by previous tablet designs, and minimalism in a tablet wasn't first seen with Apple and the iPad," he details, "We had no idea about the iPad, nor the patents, and I would consider us to be ordinary observers, and the design we came up with is exactly like what iPad became."
It's hard to disagree with Cubrilovic's conclusion here. I had forgotten just how much even the earliest mock-up of the CrunchPad looks like an iPad, and the first mock-up was released a full 18 months before Apple announced the iPad.
Thomas Baekdal has written an excellent article taking apart the iPad's "design", based on information coming from the various court cases between Apple and Samsung. Look at the list of options Apple has given to Samsung so Samsung can avoid Apple's design patent wrath:
- Front surface that isn't black.
- Overall shape that isn't rectangular, or doesn't have rounded corners.
- Display screens that aren't centered on the front face and have substantial lateral borders.
- Non-horizontal speaker slots.
- No front bezel at all.
- Thick frames rather than a thin rim around the front surface.
- Profiles that aren't thin.
- Front surfaces with substantial adornment.
- Cluttered appearance.
The funny thing is - all these things, supposedly now the property of Apple, are present in the very first CrunchPad mock-up, and all the prototypes that followed, all the way up to the Joo Joo, which was released four months before the iPad. Sure, the Joo Joo sold like three times, but that doesn't matter. Success is irrelevant in these matters.
I'm not arguing that Apple copied the CrunchPad or the Joo Joo - no, they where designed at the same time, in the same time frame. And lo and behold, without Apple ever releasing any information about the iPad, a completely separate group of people comes up with the exact same design. Any engineer, software or hardware, will tell you this is not uncommon - give a group of engineers a problem to solve, and many will come up with similar solutions.
All this serves to illustrate why I have so many issues with the way companies like Apple abuse the broken patent system. What if the CrunchPad had been a success? Would the people involved have been able to withstand Apple's patent wrath?
Is this really the technology world we want to live in?