As part of Apple’s lawsuit against Samsung accusing the Galaxy-maker of patent infringement and copying the designs of the iPhone and iPad, it was revealed that Apple and Microsoft had inked a deal that would prevent either companies from blatantly copying each other. Reuters revealed that Apple and Microsoft had an anti-cloning agreement and that both companies had cross-licensing agreements that would allow the other party to use technologies it did not own, but barred specific copying of design and user experience.
Of key interest is Microsoft’s Surface tablet, which on the surface is a simple design with edge-to-edge glass, a black bezel, straight edges, and rounded corners. This simple slate design was also employed in the first generation of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 and that tablet is one of the devices that Apple is fiercely contesting in its lawsuit against Samsung. It appears that Microsoft may have licensed Apple’s design patent to avoid a similar fate to Samsung.
All Things D is reporting that Apple patent counsel Boris Teksler says that Apple and Microsoft has a deal in place for Microsoft to use select Apple design patents.
Teksler noted that Apple and Microsoft have a cross-license agreement that does cover the design patents at issue in this case, but said that there are also special “anti-cloning” provisions in the agreement between those two companies. “We couldn’t copy each other’s products,” Teksler said.
According to The Verge in its analysis of the anti-cloning agreement, it appears that the language of the agreement is broad and vague. The agreement covers hardware, software, and design, and “the specific provision prohibiting such cloning further makes it clear that functionality and user experience, as well as the physical form factor for products, were expressly considered in the deal.” In it, both companies were prevented from releasing ‘identical or substantially identical’ products, but the agreement did not outline or give guidance to what ‘substantially identical’ means.
On the surface, though, it appears that Microsoft cannot copy iOS or the iPad or iPhone hardware and that Apple cannot copy Windows 8, Windows Phone, or the Metro UI on the Surface.
It was revealed earlier in the trial that in 2010, Apple had asked Samsung to license its designs for $30 per Android smartphone sold and $40 per Android tablet. It’s unclear if Microsoft had paid as much for its Surface tablet for the overall hardware aesthetics.
Another thing with the Surface tablet is the smart cover. While the Surface has an advanced smart cover that incorporates a keyboard, the overall concept is similar to the simpler functionality smart cover that Apple had introduced for the iPad.