Too boring to be a knockoff? Really? It probably wasn't the kind of ruling Samsung was looking for, but a British judge has helped the South Korean electronics giant ward off legal attacks from U.S. rival Apple by saying their tablet devices aren't that similar and can't be mistaken for each other.
One reason: Samsung's Galaxy Tab devices "are not as cool" as the Apple's iPad.
In what may be the first time a court attached an objective definition of cool, Judge Colin Birss of the England and Wales Patents County Court wrote that the rivals are easily distinguishable by inquiring eyes.
"The informed user's overall impression of each of the Samsung Galaxy Tablets is the following: From the front they belong to the family which includes the Apple design," said Birss according to reports. "But the Samsung products are very thin, almost insubstantial members of that family with unusual details on the back. They do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool. The overall impression produced is different."
Apple essentially created the tablet market in 2010 with the first iPad model and has since launched two sucessors, all dominating the competition, while Samsung's Android -based rivals are a distant second. In the U.S., Apple succeeded in having sales of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 model, closest in size to the iPad, banned because a judge -- apparently not taking the coolness factor into consideration -- deemed the devices too similar.
Samsung also makes a 7.7-inch and 8.9-inch Galaxy Tab, and Birss' ruling applies to all of them. Samsung had asked the court for a ruling to protect against claims of infringement.
Unlike the U.S. case, the U.K. decision centered not on whether Samsung infringed on an Apple patent when it designed the Galaxy Tab, but whether one device could be mistaken for the other.
"The intent of trade dress enforcement is to assure buyers that one product is not mistaken for another, perhaps done as a 'bait and switch' tactic," ABI Research tablets expert Jeff Orr told us.
"How many times have we heard about people being conned into buying a fake designer watch, for example? In the case between Samsung and Apple over tablet design, it's difficult to see how this confusion manifests itself," Orr said.
"Considering how many end-users put a protective cover over their tablet the moment it comes out of the retail box, the vendor concerns over brand identity seem overblown. Score one for the British judicial process."
Cupertino, Calif.,-based Apple did not respond to our e-mailed request for comment in time for publication, but in a statement published by Bloomberg News, the company did not mention the ruling directly.
"It's no coincidence that Samsung's latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging," said Apple spokesman Alan Hely.
"This kind of blatant copying is wrong and, as we've said many times before, we need to protect Apple's intellectual property when companies steal our ideas."
Apple may appeal the ruling within the next three weeks.