Samsung Invokes Kubrick Defense in Apple Tablet Fight

Samsung has pulled out all the stops in its legal battle against Apple over Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Android tablets, invoking what we are dubbing The Kubrick Defense in a U.S. court. In documents filed by Samsung, the company claimed, essentially, that it could not have stolen Apple’s iPad design because tablet devices were first seen in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Noted patent commentator Florian Mueller first spotted the evidence, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in response to a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by Apple Inc in July. Apple is asserting that several of Samsung’s Android devices infringe on a design patent that Apple owns (D504,889).

In that filing, Samsung submitted this frame from 2001: A Space Odyssey that shows two astronauts watching an interview on tablet devices while they eat.

Frame from "2001: A Space Odyssey"

Frame from 2001: A Space Odyssey, as submitted by Samsung in a U.S. Court
(Click the image for a larger version)

Accompanying the image was the following exposition on how it figured into the company’s defense:

Attached hereto as Exhibit D is a true and correct copy of a still image taken from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In a clip from that film lasting about one minute, two astronauts are eating and at the same time using personal tablet computers. The clip can be downloaded online [or view it below]. As with the design claimed by the D’889 Patent, the tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table’s surface), and a thin form factor.

In other words, Samsung is arguing that the fictional representation of a tablet form factor in a film constitutes prior art that should invalidate Apple’s design patent. Never mind that the tablets in the film are effectively TV sets, not tablet computing devices, and that they aren’t touched by the actors.

Samsung’s point is that if its tablets look like Apple’s iPad, Apple’s iPad itself looks like a concept presented more than 40 years ago, and thus Apple shouldn’t be able to get a design patent for the concept of the iPad.

Florian Mueller opined that it would be “amazing” if the courts actually bought the argument, and we should find out whether or not that’s the case in a matter of days or weeks. There was other material filed in Samsung’s response, but most of it was filed under seal, and is thus not yet accessible by the public.

Segment from 2001: A Space Odyssey, as linked to by Samsung in a court filing