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Vertical market tablets. such as the Fujitsu's Stylistic 3500, were successful by 2001.
By 2001, designs like Fujitsu's Stylistic 3500 had made tablets a commercial success. While these Windows-powered tablets never saw mass popularity, they were, and still are, used in various vertical markets such as manufacturing and medical services.
Before the iPad, or its design patent, Apple was showing up the idea... years after everyone else.
I will give Apple some credit for fictional tablets as well though. It sure seems to me that in Pixar's 2004 animated movie The Incredibles that they were already using iPads. The iPhone was still three years in the future. The iPad farther still. The bottom line though is that, as anyone can plainly see, there was nothing new or worthy of protection in the basic design of an iPad.
The idea that there is something original in the iPad's design that's worthy of intellectual property protection is the real science-fiction.