In order to win the case (if they do) Apple had to give up unprecedented amounts of development information from prototypes to concept drawings. Though seeing Apple’s prototypes doesn’t mean that another company can copy their process, the reveal doesn’t come without some damage to Apple’s vaunted secrecy.
I remember cheering along with the prerecorded crowd when Steve Jobs announced how throughly Apple had patented the iPhone. My views on software patents since then have evolved somewhat, but about the iPhone I feel essentially the same.
The iPhone—especially the first generation iPhone—was a product so tightly integrated that software and hardware could be considered one entity. The device was more than just a rounded rectangle or bouncy scroll behavior. The best example I can think of is if Apple had used some bizarre steam-punk clockwork mechanism to create the iPhone from pieces of metal sliding in and out of place on a reel or series of plates. This hypothetical (and possibly ridiculous) device would have been utterly broken if one of its gears was removed. So too with the real iPhone.
On a computer, separating software from hardware, leaving room for competitors to imitate or clone features, makes some sense. On the original iPhone, it did not and does not. Performance was unprecedented, interactions novel, physical design different from anything on the market.
It was a risk for Apple and a truly revolutionary device, just look around a carrier store. At the time people thought it would be a flop. It might have been without the AppStore and a serious up-front price reconsideration. Would Samsung have made an entire line of devices mimicking Apple then?
Who am I kidding? Probably.
Update: Between the writing and posting of this article, Jim Dalrymple unwittingly wrote a nice companion piece. Great points there, as usual.
Update 2: Also since the writing of this piece, Samsung’s case has gotten considerably worse, topped by the internal documents cataloging the comparative analysis between the iPhone and what the document calls the “S1.” This just keeps getting better.