Apple VS Samsung Patent Battle Sheds Light On iPhone’s Secretive Design Process

Image via Nebojsa Markovic /

Tech giants Apple and Samsung have found themselves back in the courtroom this month, thereby prolonging their roughly seven-year run involving iPhone design infringements.

On Tuesday, Richard Howarth—one of two lead designers behind the iPhone and a senior director helming Apple’s design team—accused Samsung of stealing the “essential flavor” of the iPhone through blatant rip offs. It was during this trial involving Samsung’s violation, where Apple is demanding US$1 billion in damages, that Howarth described Samsung as having hijacked the iPhone’s iconic setup to say, “We’re cool, too.”

Howarth is the brainchild behind two design patents that sit front-and-center in this Apple-Samsung patent lawsuit. The first specifies a black, rectangular front face with rounded corners (D’677), while the second outlines something similar but with the bezel (D’087).

At the core of the lawsuit is the debate what, precisely, constitutes an “article of manufacture” that the patent truly governs?

Apple argues that the patents should protect the entire iPhone, seeing as how the “phone is an idea.”

“The whole thing is the phone… You can’t take just a part and say ‘Let’s protect just that,’” Howarth asserted, adding that while a phone could be taken apart with the correct tools, Apple’s patents are much bigger than that.

Samsung, on the other hand, disputes that it should just be that particular component of the gadget.

As such, the jury’s decision and outcome of this case could have a major influence on the power of design patents in the tech world.

Apple’s VP of procurement Tony Blevins also testified, albeit slightly emotionally, as reported by CNET, largely due to the sacrifices the iPhone design team had to make throughout the production process, only to discover Samsung subsequently stealing from them, not to mention, brazenly.

Blevins recounted working tirelessly on the iPhone “for years,” including “late nights and weekends,” giving up family time, and forgoing birthday celebrations.

“We filed for patents and tried to do things in the right way so we could enjoy the fruits of our labor,” explained Blevins, who added that the debut of Samsung’s similar phones came with “every negative emotion you could imagine.”

According to Howarth, Apple had rejected “hundreds and hundreds” of iPhone prototypes before the final model was introduced in 2007. Among these were experiments sporting tried-and-tested designs, including an octagonal bezel, one with rounded edges only on the left and right, and another with a light gray front. All these, however, “didn’t represent what [Apple was] trying to do,” which was to ultimately build something relatable and understandable.

On top of this, Apple’s procurement approach differs greatly from the rest of the industry.

While nearly every other company applied the building-block philosophy, that is, purchasing the best components before building the product, Apple functioned in the wholly opposite direction.

It starts with the design before determining the necessary ingredients. Blevins revealed that he’d once spent two-and-a-half weeks inside a factory, just trying to figure out how to downsize the iPhone’s vibration motor so that it would fit nicely.

Greg Joswiak, Apple’s VP of Product Marketing, admitted during cross-examination by Samsung’s lawyer that the brand does conduct tear-downs of rivals’ products to study their components, but firmly added that it never copied what they had done.

“That’s the difference between right and wrong,” said Joswiak.

Apple has already received a US$548 million payout from Samsung, but a US$399 million portion of this could be decreased or increased, depending on the jury’s decision.

[via CNET, main image via Nebojsa Markovic /]


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