Mac Design Guru Susan Kare Testifies in Apple/Samsung Case

Design Guru Susan Kare testified on behalf of her former employer Tuesday, telling the court room that many of Samsung’s icon designs and home screen layout infringed design patents owned by Apple.

Susan Kare

Susan Kare

Ms. Kare, who is best known for her work on the original Mac design team and for designing the first Mac icons, testified that so similar are the devices, she once picked up a Samsung device from a lawyer’s table when she was trying to reach for an iPhone to make a point.

“I mistook one for the other,” she said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “In addition to the analysis, I personally had the experience of being confused.”

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Many observers of this epic court battle would be excused for saying something to the effect of, “Well, duh! What else would she say?” She is, after all, an iconic figure herself who worked with Steve Jobs, the late Apple cofounder, on the Mac itself. She then left Apple to work with Mr. Jobs when he started up NeXT.

Mac Icons

Original Mac Icons by Susan Care

The reality, however, is that Ms. Kare is a bona fide design expert, and she’s done icon design work for Microsoft, IBM, and other tech companies. She currently heads her own design firm, and you can buy prints of her iconic icons that she began selling in 2010.

What really matters, however, is that she was accepted by the court as an expert witness. When you have the kind of high powered attorneys being deployed by Apple and Samsung, being accepted as an expert witness requires undergoing a rigorous acceptance process. As such, her testimony will most likely play some role in the jury’s deliberations.

What Are Words For?

So what did she say? Ms. Kare testified that in her opinion, many of Samsung’s icons were “substantially similar” to icons Apple developed for its iPhone. This included colors, design elements, such as gears being used to symbolize the settings icon, and the layout of those icons on the home screen.

Samsung’s attorneys countered by pointing out differences on some of the icons, such as the messaging and calculator apps. Ms. Kare concurred that those specific icons were not “substantially similar,” but that even there they used the same metaphors.

The settings icon, for instance, she said was “not 100 percent different,” noting the gear metaphor.

She also said that as part of her analysis process she sought out examples of other products that didn’t infringe on Apple’s design patents. She pointed to Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Touch smartphone, which managed to offer a home screen that did not resemble Apple’s iPhone.

By asking Ms. Kare about this, Apple’s attorneys were likely trying to make the point that it’s possible to make smartphones and tablets that don’t look like Apple’s iPhone and iPad. How the jury takes it remains to be seen.

These Boots Were Made for Distinguishing Our Products

Samsung also made the case that the startup process of its devices was very different from Apple’s. An iPhone or iPad starts up with a blazing Apple logo, eventually going straight to the home screen. According to CNet, Samsung then showed its Droid Charge, which starts with a Droid logo, an animated video, a startup sound of the product’s name. Users then have to push a button to get to the home screen that Apple argues infringes on its patents.

“It’s only after all these steps that the consumer gets to the application screen,” Samsung attorney Charles Verhoeven argued.

Mr. Verhoeven’s point is that because of these startup differences, there’s just no way a consumer could mistake one of these allegedly infringing devices for an Apple device. Never mind, of course, that the devices are already turned on in the store.

Indeed, Apple has also put forth as evidence a Samsung-led study of some 30 Best Buy stores that found customers who had bought Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet had returned it thinking they had purchased an iPad and discovering it was not.