One of my favorite legal ploys is "prior use": Some company is suing another company for violating a patent (or whatever) that they own, and then—BAM!—the defending company pulls an ace out of its sleeve and comes up with an example of prior use, proving that the suing company doesn't even own the technology in question. The case is thrown out of court, the crowd goes wild.
Of course, the way this usually works is that the prior use is something, well, real. That is, if Microsoft were going to go after Apple for the iPad, it would be able to find some patented technologies it created for the Tablet PC a decade before. (I'm making this one up, but you can see what I mean.)
OK, simple enough. But what does this have to do with the real world?
You might recall that Apple is busy suing the bejeezus out of Samsung in US and EU courts, all because it feels that Samsung's smartphones and tablet devices are near-perfect copies of its iPhone and iPad products, respectively. And sure enough, Apple has a point: Like the Android OS on which the Samsung devices run, the Samsung devices themselves are indeed pretty blatant rip-offs.
But Samsung's latest defense is to get a judge to declare Apple's iPad design patent invalid. And the way it's done this is to come up with an example of prior use. And that example is ... the 1968 science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yes. The movie.
"In a clip from that film lasting about one minute, two astronauts are eating and at the same time using personal tablet computers," a Samsung filing reads. "The tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table's surface), and a thin form factor."
Pretend astronauts use a suspiciously iPad-like tablet computer in "2001."
You know, just like the iPad. Samsung even provides a handy YouTube link showing a scene from 2001 in which the tablet computer appears. It also mention other classic sci-fi movies and TV shows that feature similar tablet computers, including The Tomorrow People (UK) and the original Star Trek.
Nostalgia notwithstanding, Apple will have none of that. And while the company has yet to address the 2001 reference officially yet, it did provide a basic statement explaining how it feels about Samsung right now. "From the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging, this kind of blatant copying is wrong, and we need to protect our intellectual property when companies steal our ideas," an Apple spokesperson said.