In an effort to battle a patent infringement suit brought by rival Apple, Samsung has filed a brief citing Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” as prior art.

Attached hereto as Exhibit D is a true and correct copy of a still image taken from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In a clip from that film lasting about one minute, two astronauts are eating and at the same time using personal tablet computers.

Certainly there’s an Apple-esque minimalism at play here. Note the generous bezel around the screen, and the controls (teeny enough that you can’t actually see them in this image) reside at the bottom edge of the bezel. It’s a pity that in the only capture I can find it would appear that our intrepid astronauts are merely watching a video broadcast, and not, perhaps, playing Angry Birds (which is of course what they’d surely prefer to do, but voyaging through space is serious business.) More’s the pity that the tablet in the film bears the label, IBM.

Dune’s Tablet Computer

But why stop there? Kubrick may have been the first, but his has hardly been the only on-screen vision of tablet computers. There’s the relatively bulky (by today’s standards, anyway) tablet that made its appearance in David Lynch’s version of Dune.

And of course, there’s the slim and styling tablet which saw regular use on Star Trek — TNG, DS9, take your pick — for which I would have at the time traded certain, let’s say vestigial parts of my anatomy. And for Gene Roddenberry’s sake, let us not forget the original series’ tricorder.

Star Trek’s Tablet Computer


Of course, this isn’t the first time that SciFi has been used as the basis for prior art. Science Fiction giant Robert Heinlein described the attributes of a waterbed so precisely and thoroughly in his writings that the USPTO denied entrepreneur Charles Hall a patent in 1968, citing Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Other decisions haven’t been quite so decisive. Frederik Pohl described voice mail, voice dialing, virtual reality, online job searches and virtual keyboards in a single work, 1969’s The Age of the Pussyfoot, and none of his work has been successfully referenced as prior art.1 Such is the caprice of the  US Patent and Trademark Office.

All of this overlooks the very interesting aspect of Apple’s beef with Samsung, and that’s the pointed fact that if you look at Samsung’s telephones and tablet offerings before the iPhone and iPad, and look at them after, there’s a pretty spooky similarity each for the other in terms of  its look and feel, or its “trade dress.” And there’s no cinematic deux ex machina to help Samsung litigate that.


Before & After. AppleInsider Image —

  1. Nor have most of the inventions on this fantastic and frankly exhausting timeline of SciFi inventions. []

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