Apple Inc. (AAPL) saw a prototype for a tablet computer more than a decade before the iPad was released in 2010, said a news technology developer called as a trial witness by Samsung Electronics Co. (005930)
Videotaped testimony by Roger Fidler, who heads the digital publishing program at the University of Missouri, was shown yesterday to the jury in Samsung’s multibillion-dollar intellectual property dispute with Apple over smartphones and tablets.
Fidler said in a written declaration he started working on a tablet design in 1981 and that “Apple personnel were exposed to my tablet ideas and prototypes” during a period in the mid-1990s when the company collaborated with Knight-Ridder Inc.’s information design laboratory in Colorado.
“My feeling was that it should be something that’s lightweight, portable, with a flat screen that had an ability to use a touch screen,” Fidler testified, referring to the first mock-up of his tablet from the early 1980s.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, sued Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung in April 2011, accusing it of copying patented designs, and Samsung countersued. The case is the first to go before a federal jury in a battle being waged on four continents for dominance in a smartphone market valued by Bloomberg Industries at $219.1 billion.
Samsung’s use of Fidler’s testimony, as with other witnesses the company has called, is intended to discredit Apple’s claims of originality behind the patented technology used in the iPad and the iPhone.
Fidler, who began his career in the newspaper industry in 1961, had a longstanding interest in developing “interactive, easy to read, portable electronic tablets,” he said in his declaration. He wrote an essay in 1981 in which he envisioned how newspapers might look in the year 2000, suggesting they may appear on “portable flat-screen displays.” Since then, he has discussed and displayed his tablet designs at media conferences worldwide and on radio and TV programs, he said.
Fidler testified that a later version of his tablet, built in 1994, featured “rounded corners” and slots for memory cards, again with a “flat touchscreen.”
“My original assumptions were that it would be a touchscreen without a stylus,” he said.
In a session without the jury present, Samsung lawyer Charles Verhoeven, defending the company’s attempt to show the testimony, told U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh it was central to the company’s case and that Apple had successfully blocked Fidler from testifying in person. He didn’t explain how or why. The jury didn’t see any videotape recording of Apple’s lawyers questioning Fidler.
Apple is claiming at least $2.5 billion in damages for patent and trade dress infringement. Apple also wants to make permanent a preliminary ban it won on U.S. sales of a Samsung tablet, and extend the ban to Samsung smartphones.
Samsung is trying to persuade the jury to find Apple’s patents invalid and to award unspecified damages for Apple’s infringement of its patents.
Koh has limited each side to 25 hours to present their cases. The trial is expected to conclude late this month.
The case is Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., 11-cv-01846, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).