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Apple Granted Broad Patent On Wedge-Shaped Laptops 326

Nick Fel writes "Apple has been granted a broad patent (PDF) on the wedge-shaped design of the MacBook Air. The design has been copied by most ultrabooks, and their manufacturers are likely starting to feel a little uneasy about the news."
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Apple Granted Broad Patent On Wedge-Shaped Laptops

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  • by dhovis ( 303725 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @01:51PM (#40260125)
    This comes up occasionally and this is not a traditional patent, but a design patent. You can still build a wedge-shaped laptop, you just can't have it look exactly like a MacBook Air. There are lots of ways of designing around it. You could make it almost the same, but with a different finish, for example.
  • That and according to this Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]: "Design patents cover the ornamental nonfunctional design of an item. Design patents can be invalidated if the design has practical utility (e.g. the shape of a gear)." So let's figure out how to show "practical utility" for a wedge shape.
  • Re:Look-and-feel (Score:5, Informative)

    by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @01:54PM (#40260165) Journal
    It's a design patent. It's closer to trademark protection than patent protection in how its used. It protects the look of an item. A particularly famous example is the design of the Coke bottle.

    You can't get a design patent for basic functional details. The fact that it's made of two parts, that the front is thinner than the back, and it's hinged are purely functional. The specifics - the curves and contours that only serve an aesthetic purpose - can be protected.
  • Re:Awesome... (Score:5, Informative)

    by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @01:54PM (#40260167)

    Patents and copyrights are used only to protect past acompilishments not create new ones. Stronger IP protections are only used to slow down growth. It is all but ignored by growing economies.

  • by dtmos ( 447842 ) * on Friday June 08, 2012 @02:03PM (#40260265)

    Don't Panic!

    This is a "design patent," not a "utility patent." "The difference between a design patent and a utility patent [wisegeek.com] is that a design patent protects the ornamental design, configuration, improved decorative appearance, or shape of an invention, [while] a utility patent protects any new invention or functional improvements on existing inventions."

    People get design patents so that they may have legal recourse when someone substantially copies the appearance of their product. Apple got a design patent on its particular ornamental design of wedge-shaped laptops, to keep people from making knockoffs off them, not "a broad patent on wedge-shaped laptops."

    Unsolicited, unprofessional advice: Roll over. Go back to sleep.

  • Read the patent! (Score:4, Informative)

    by dtmos ( 447842 ) * on Friday June 08, 2012 @02:09PM (#40260349)


    Sony Viao X505, available at least as early as May 8, 2005

    Apple cited the Viao in its application. Keep in mind that this is a design patent, not a utility patent.

  • Re:TOTALLY ORIGINAL (Score:5, Informative)

    by jo_ham ( 604554 ) <joham999@gmail.cTIGERom minus cat> on Friday June 08, 2012 @02:20PM (#40260499)

    Yes indeed, but it seems Apple *did* pay attention, since they referenced that very thing in the patent itself.

    Oh wait, you didn't read it! My mistake! Carry on!

  • And, uh, a company's own products can't be 'prior art'...

    Not true:

    35 USC 102: A person shall be entitled to a patent unless —
    (b)the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the United States

    That applies even if the description, public use, or sale was by the inventor. It's to keep people from selling a product for years, waiting until a competitor appears, and only then filing an application.

  • Re:TOTALLY ORIGINAL (Score:4, Informative)

    by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @02:25PM (#40260591)

    Pay no attention to the Sony Vaio X505 [cbsistatic.com] behind the curtain!

    Which is cited as prior art in this design patent.

    Which means, in order to infringe on this design patent you have to make something which looks much more like a MacBook Air than a Sony Vaio X505. It says nothing at all about building something which works the same as an Air let alone weighs the same.

    Which is clearly a limitation on freedom of expression; one which is nowhere as onerous as a normal patent and which isn't that much of a big deal. Let's worry about the fact that poor people in medium income countries are dying because of drugs patents first please. And before that let's worry about the fact that random independent software companies can get destroyed by patents they never even knew existed, let alone benefitted from in their software development process. Design patents are a very minor issue.

  • by uigrad_2000 ( 398500 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @02:29PM (#40260621) Homepage Journal

    This is a design patent. It does not need to be inventive. The slashdot summary that said it was a "broad" patent is completely false.

    This prevents other companies from making knock-offs of this particular design. If the ornamentation on a knockoff is changed, for example, so that it no longer looks exactly like this Mac Book Air, then the knockoff is ok. It's only if it matches exactly what is in this design that it would be infringing.

    The slashdot summary makes it sound as if wedge-shaped laptops are now all covered by this patent. Whether it's just written poorly or intentionally designed to cause FUD is anyone's guess. Maybe the submitter will respond.

  • by Grond ( 15515 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @02:38PM (#40260725) Homepage

    The scope of a patent is defined by its claims as read in light of the specification, but design patents only have one claim, which simply refers to the drawings in the patent specification. The figures in design patents are drawn in a very particular way [uspto.gov]. The most important thing to know is that only the solid lines matter. The dashed lines are only there to provide context and do not represent the claimed design. In this case, most of the laptop is drawn in dashed lines. It's a little hard to tell because of the relatively low-quality PDF, but it looks like only the lid is drawn in solid lines. Compare that to the parent design patent, D642172 [google.com], which covers more of the case, the keyboard, etc.

  • Wrong, try again (Score:4, Informative)

    by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @02:59PM (#40260995)

    The entire purpose of patents and copyrights is to create incentives for new works.

    Patents were intended to get inventors to publish "how to" information to further society. The limited term of exclusivity is a form of compensation for revealing what might otherwise be kept a trade secret. OTOH if you use that definition, anything that is obvious in hind-sight should not be patentable since introduction of a product would be disclosure of the idea - at least ideas like the shape of a laptop.

  • Re:WTF (Score:4, Informative)

    by AC-x ( 735297 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @03:40PM (#40261459)

    A wedge shape for a laptop is just an idea. How can this be patented?

    It can't, the summary is complete bullshit. The patent is a design patent, a very narrow patent on the exact look of the macbook air, not a broad patent on a "wedge shaped laptops".

  • Re:Functional parts (Score:3, Informative)

    by Nixoloco ( 675549 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @04:26PM (#40261995)
    Stop spreading FUD. They didn't sue because it had round corners, there was a long list of things that were copied right down to the power adapters and packaging. Samsung has a long history of copying other manufacturers devices (see their old "blackjack" phone as an example).
  • Re:Awesome... (Score:5, Informative)

    by rilister ( 316428 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @04:35PM (#40262079)

    This is a DESIGN patent, not a UTILITY patent. It protects a very specific appearance of a thing. Essentially, if you made something similar enough to this that it could be easily confused by a customer, you infringe.

    You can make all the wedge-shaped laptops you like. Apple is not pretending to ANYONE that they "invented" wedge shaped computers.

    We do this EVERY time a design patent comes up on Slashdot. Editors: please take 15 mins to learn the difference between design and utility patents if you're going to persist in posting up flamebait articles on the topic.

  • by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @04:48PM (#40262259)

    The problem is, this covers ANY laptop that is thinner on one edge, which is purely an evolutionary change as some parts (like the HD) get smaller, while other parts (like the battery) don't. Are they supposed to artificially thicken the front edge to the same height as the battery, just to avoid this patent?

    No it doesn't. If you read the patent, they even cite that people had done laptops thinner on the front than the rear before (sony), and that it's not what the patent covers.

  • Re:Awesome... (Score:4, Informative)

    by rilister ( 316428 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @05:00PM (#40262437)

    If you take a look at the linked patent, you'll see it is essentially nothing but pictures of the MacBook Air, with no commentary on what features are/aren't protected. You'd expect Apple to do nothing less, and they aren't make any specific claims about edges/corners/wedges. Just 'something that looks like this'.

    Design patents are (by intent) subjective. If you came up with a soft-drink with a logo in your hand-writing, there has to be a process to decide if you were deliberately trying to mislead people into thinking it was Coca-cola, but we don't want rules defining what your hand-writing is supposed to look like. So Coca-cola just submit pictures of the logo, and we figure the rest out later.

    If your objection is the existence of design patents, then fair enough. A judge taking a point of view on 'generic elements' is healthy and normal part of the process.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.