Apple's notorious asserted ownership over "rectangles with curved corners" got a shot of legitimacy this week, with the US patent office finally granting a design patent for the original iPad aesthetic. The patent, "Portable display device" (D670,286), was filed back in late November 2010, but only approved this past Tuesday; Apple's moves to use the patent in litigation against rival tablet manufacturers are likely to be a whole lot quicker, however.
Although the diagrams Apple provides are pretty comprehensive - it's clear from the blunt edges and the trio of speaker holes that they're based on the first iPad - there's actually only one shape that's being asserted. In design patents, only lines drawn solidly are covered; anything with a dotted line is merely to fill in the gaps and add context.
With only the rounded-corner rectangle line solid, it's clear that this design patent only covers a single element: how a tablet (or, more broadly, portable display unit) balances the proportions of its sides with its corners. It's on that basis that Samsung managed to get a similar design patent used to push the Galaxy Tab 10.1 from shelves in the German market.
Samsung was forced to redesign the slate earlier this year, making the edges more distinctively different from those of the iPad. Apple attempted to redouble its ban, but was rejected, the simplicity of the patented line then becoming a relative drawback as Samsung could relatively easily design around it.
A US jury has already awarded Apple a $1bn judgement against Samsung for patent infringement this year. It remains to be seen whether, with this design patent now approved, Apple will circle back to try to allege more wrongdoing.