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Samsung Attacks 'Unique' Features Of Apple iPhone, iPad

In patent case testimony, Samsung expert witness says iPhone's snap back feature was used in other tech products long before Apple implemented it.

Apple iPhone 5 Vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: What We Know
Apple iPhone 5 Vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: What We Know
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Samsung's attack on the uniqueness of its iPad and iPhone user interface's "snap back" feature seemed to be moving forward at the Apple vs. Samsung trial in San Jose on Wednesday. Andries van Dam, a highly respected voice in computer graphics, said he was familiar with snap back because he'd been teaching it for a decade.

So many claims and counter claims have flown back and forth during the infringement trial in U.S. District Court that Apple could charge Samsung with rustling and Samsung could charge Apple with cannibalism and hardly anyone would notice. But van Dam's statement that "prior art" both existed and was well understood by legions of university students over many years came as an arresting moment.

Snap back prevents the confusion that results when a user reaches the edge of an electronic document on a touch screen and keeps going into an empty space with no markers to give him his bearings. He scrolls through empty space, with no guidance on how to get back to the document. It's called "getting lost in the desert fog," among other things.

"Did the U.S. Patent Office consider that when it granted Patent 381," (381 are the last digits of Apple's snap back patent), which protects the snap back feature in its devices, van Dam was asked in direct examination by Samsung attorneys.

"The patent examiner didn't have the benefit of this knowledge of prior art. If he did, he wouldn't have been able to issue the patent," answered van Dam.

Van Dam is a professor of computer science and computer graphics at Brown University and author of Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice with three other authors, a frequently used text in computer graphics courses. He said he and fellow authors have just sent a new, revised version of 1,500 pages to the publisher.

[ Samsung isn't letting the trial slow it down. Read Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Details For U.S. Launch. ]

There are experts and there are venerated experts. The Dutch-born van Dam was the seventh person to get a doctorate in computer science in the U.S.--from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966. He founded the computer science department at Brown University and co-founded the show that would become the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics, better known as ACM-Siggraph.

His view on the snap back patent was in marked contrast one expressed by Ravin Balakrishnan, a University of Toronto computer science professor testified on Aug. 10 and described snap back to the jury, saying: "No one solved the problem before Apple."

Van Dam said the snap back was a feature of the DiamondTouch touch-sensitive table, developed at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab (MERL) in Cambridge, Mass., in 2004 and shown to many parties throughout 2005, or two years before the emergence of the iPhone. The table operated with a projector on a post shining a beam of light on it and four workers gathered around it. As they moved electronic documents around on the screen or made revisions, their movements were recorded by sensors and sent to an application running on a nearby PC, wired to the participant's chairs. An application called TableCloth on the DiamondTouch has a snap back feature in it.

The DiamondTouch was first mentioned by Clifton Forlines, a software developer at MERL, and Adam Bogue, a business development manager for DiamondTouch, in testimony Monday. The fact that Samsung raised it again via van Dam suggests that it agrees with Christopher Carani, chair of the American Bar Association's committee on design rights. Carani said in an interview that Samsung has to convincingly demonstrate prior art existed before Apple obtained its patents on the iPhone, including the 381 patent describing snap back, or it may found guilty of having infringed them.

Apple's attorneys had until van Dam shrugged off the DiamondTouch with a, "What, you expect us to compare this to the iPhone?" attitude. Michael Jacobs stepped up cross examination of Forlines Monday by asking where the original MERL DiamondTouch now resided. To the courtroom's surprise, Samsung's law firm, Quinn Emanuel, has bought it. One reason it might have done so would be to keep it out of the courtroom by claiming it was an exchange protected by attorney client privilege, lest Apple's attorneys tear into the early model to illustrate differences between it and the iPhone user interface.

Quinn Emanuel had purchased a second DiamondTouch as well.

"Where is it?" demanded Jacobs. "We want to see it."

This was an unusual demand. Both sets of attorneys are "on the clock," or running through a total of 25 hours allotted to them to both present witness and cross examine witnesses in the case. Asking for the DiamondTouch would consume time on the Apple side of the clock. Samsung had to pull out the DiamondTouch exhibit, but it was done at the request of Apple and counted against Apple’s time allotment. But to Jacobs, there was a point he wanted to make.

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