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Samsung calls Apple patents into question with LaunchTile and DiamondTouch table

Samsung calls Apple patents into question with LaunchTile and DiamondTouch table


Samsung went after the validity of Apply's utility patents today, showing off two computer systems that feature functionality that looked quite similar to what Apple offers — and that predated the iPad and iPhone.

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DiamondTouch Table
DiamondTouch Table

Samsung started off its case today by going straight at the heart of Apple's utility patents, showing off two software systems with similar functionality that pre-date iOS altogether. Adam Bogue, president of Circle 12, showed off images and video of a projection-based touchscreen surface called the DiamondTouch Table. Developed in 2001 at the Mitsubishi Electronic Research Laboratory (MERL), the DiamondTouch featured two particularly-relevant pieces of software: Fractal Zoom, an application that allowed users to manipulate images using multiple fingers, and Tablecloth.

The latter allows users to pull an image down in a window, revealing a duplicate image right above it; letting go causes the image to snap back to its original position, providing a visual effect that appeared quite similar to Apple's bounce-back effect. The DiamondTouch was easily accessible in the MERL lobby for anyone to access, leaving open the possibility that anyone in Cupertino could have seen the device — in fact, Bogue revealed that he'd even given a demonstration to Apple itself in 2003.

Under questioning by Apple counsel Michael Jacobs, however, Bogue stated that Fractal Zoom was actually developed after the device had been taken to Apple. Apple's legal team then took its own turn at courtroom theatrics, with Jacobs asking Bogue about what had happened to one early model of the DiamoundTouch — it had been sold to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, the law firm representing Samsung in this case — and then requesting a version of the DiamondTouch be hauled out right there on the spot.

Apple's bounce-back patent faced another prior-art assault from Benjamin Bederson and the LaunchTile system. A tile-based UI for mobile devices, LaunchTile was developed in 2004 and built around what Bederson called "semantic zooming." Demonstrated on an HP iPAQ , the system divided a user's screen into four sections, each featuring a different application. Users could swipe back and forth, revealing new areas of the interface, or could zoom up a level to provide a birds-eye view of all of the tiles present. Drilling down brought up a single-screen app view.

Samsung's attorneys focused on what Bederson called the "snap-back" feature: when swiping from screen to screen, if a user didn't go past a certain threshold the screen would snap back to it's initial state. It looked almost like an inverse of Apple's bounce-back, something Jacobs was quick to point out when questioning Bederson. Jacobs also pointed out that the system didn't reveal empty space scrolling past the edge of the screen — an important component of Apple's '381 patent.

While the two systems demonstrated didn't replicate the functionality found in Apple's devices precisely, they could plant a seed of doubt in the jury's minds as to the originally of Apple's inventions. Questioning the validity of the patents in the first place could end up being Samsung's strongest strategy when it comes to these particular claims; we'll see what they have in store tomorrow.