Apple granted MacBook Air design patent; problems ahead for Ultrabook makers?

Apple granted MacBook Air design patent; problems ahead for Ultrabook makers?

Summary: Apple has patented the design of the MacBook Air. Consider how much difference there is between Apple's portable and any other Ultrabook? The answer is very little.

TOPICS: iPhone

Apple has been granted what appears to be a very broad design patent (gallery) covering the distinctive look of the MacBook Air.

Design patent D661,296 was issued on Tuesday. It covers not the minutia of the design -- such as hinges, ports, feet and so on -- but the overall wedge and teardrop shape of the portable.

When looking at the images in the patents, bear in mind that it is the solid lines define the boundaries of the claimed shape or design, while the dashed lines can be any shape or design and still infringe on the patent.

Consider how much difference there is between the MacBook Air and say, HP's Envy Spectre, or the ASUS Zenbook? The answer is very little. In fact, remove the logos and the average person in the street might not be able to tell the different.

They're all made of metal, and all have the same basic wedge, teardrop-like shape. That, it would appear, is all that is needed to infringe on this design patent.

To be honest with you, I'm having a hard time thinking of a Ultrabook or any other thin-and-light system that would appear to not violate this patent.

Given how enthusiastically Apple has wielded its iPhone and iPad design patents against smartphone and tablet makers, it seems a safe bet that the Cupertino giant will behave in exactly the same with this latest patent.

I would say that Ultrabook makers, and those who build thin-and-light portable makers should prepare for an onset of litigation.

Apple granted patent on MacBook Air (Gallery)

Image Gallery: Apple granted patent on MacBook Air Image Gallery: Charge Image Gallery: Charge
Image sources: USPTO, HP, ASUS.


Topic: iPhone

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • more apple crap

    patents. patenting outlines, because the insides are confusing to them.
    • More misinformed crap

      This is not a utility patent, this is a trade dress patent. It exists to protect the look and feel of a design so that others can not create products that mislead consumers into thinking it is something that it is not. As such, patenting outlines is EXACTLY what the system is designed to do.
      But don't let facts get in the way of your trolling.

      A note on the ranking system:
      If there was any better indication of why this ranking system is STUPID, it is the fact that my post is rated -3 while the reply, agreeing with me, calling it a good point, and using the same rhetorical methods, is at +2.
      Also, note that none of the cowards who down rated my post have anything to actually SAY.
      • good point

        Many newer light laptops look like the Air ... because other manufactures copied the design. But please don't confuse people with the facts as it makes them cranky.
      • I really don't get it...

        Is apple gonna use this to sue the ultrabook makers or not?
        If so, that's far worse than trolling, IMHO...
        That said, it doesn't matter, Transformer design is better...unless that's also being which case apple sucks bigtime.
      • re: More misinformed crap

        [i]A note on the ranking system:[/i]

        Another thing that sucks about the ranking system is it makes me rely on other users' votes to hide your posts. I should be able to indicate to the system to hide your sniveling comments preemptively.
        none none
      • Mirriam Webster

        @none none
        You might want to look up the word sniveling, since you have no clue what the word means
      • RE: Ranking System

        The ranking system here is a pathetic joke. You can not judge a post by it's ranking here, you can only tell if the post sides with the loyalty of the majority reading the thread or the minority.
    • true

      Apple patents looks and dimensions of everyday objects. That way they can sue everyone before Andafter them.
      • Not true

        And why don't you educate yourself on trade dress patents before you waste everyone's time with a reply?
  • These will not hold up...

    They will not hold up, many other laptops narrowed towards the front and the ASUS has hard edges.
    • There is no need for ultrabooks to have teardrop shape at all

      All of them are free to use typical rectangle shape.

      However, for now all they want is to sell "me too" designs -- what is wrong.
      • Wedge Shaped Laptops Have Been Around Longer than the Air

        The problem with this is that wedge shaped laptops have been around longer than the Air. There's not really anything that distinctive about this design. The Air is smaller than most earlier wedge shaped laptops, but that's hardly an earth shattering distinction.

        Besides that, patents are supposed to be about innovations, not design decisions. Cosmetic design decisions like this are supposed to be handled by trademark, not patent. If it's not distinctive enough, then a trademark is not warranted. So, now, instead, 'If it's not distinctive enough, get a patent instead.' That makes a lot of sense (sarcasm here, in case anyone missed it).
      • There is no need for the MBA to have a teardrop shape at all

        Apple is free to use the typical rectangle shape.

        However, for now all they want is to sell "me too" designs -- that's what is wrong with the MBA, the design was used prior to the MBA.

        Guess they're not selling as well as they hoped, and need to file braod but lame patents to compete.
        William Farrel
      • @CFWhitman

        This is a design patent. It is about design decisions, not about innovations.

        This is a completely different animal than a trademark.

        What you are thinking of is a utility patent, which has absolutely nothing to do with this.
      • Once again, the anti-Apple crowd...

        hate having facts pointed out to them.
      • There was never anything like MBA, so there is no argument

        @CFWhitman It is not just tear drop shape, but also size, and thinness. From this form-factor, only Sony's small notebook from years ago is similar, but its design was nothing like MBA because it had c cylinder that connected screen and notebook's main body with keyboard.
      • Now I'm Wondering Why Design Patents Exist Separately from Trademarks

        Apparently a design patent is about cosmetic decisions, which leads me to wonder why they even exist when cosmetic decisions should already be covered by trademark (like the Jeep grill, for example).

        Regardless, there is nothing distinctive enough about the MacBook Air design to separate it from general design principles. The MacBook Air is basically based on the design principles (1) make it as thin as possible and (2) round the corners. So now we are going to prohibit other manufacturers from following these design principles? Those aren't exactly a stretch of the imagination. Even the wedge shape is a result of following those principles, but as I said, other wedge shaped laptops existed before that.
      • The problem

        @ Will Ferrel, CFWhitman, Peter Perry and the rest:
        No, the problem is with your understanding of patent law.
        As pointed out, this is NOT a utility patent. It is a trade dress patent.

        From Wikipedia (which is actually correct here):
        In the U.S., like trademarks, a product's trade dress is legally protected by the Lanham Act, the federal statute which regulates trademarks and trade dress. Trade dress protection is intended to protect consumers from packaging or appearance of products that are designed to imitate other products; to prevent a consumer from buying one product under the belief that it is another. For example, the shape, color, and arrangement of the materials of a children's line of clothing can be protectable trade dress (though, the design of the garments themselves is not protected), as can the design of a magazine cover, the appearance and dcor of a chain of Mexican-style restaurants, and a method of displaying wine bottles in a wine shop.

        And specifically at Will Ferrel:
        The depth of your ignorance and total inability to get your mind around logical trains of thought, and to follow simple logical arguments, never ceases to astound me. Specifically to this issue, if you had bothered to research the issue before offering to make a fool out of yourself, you would have seen that the patent, covering the latest MacBook Air design, was applied for in Oct 2010, well before the machine was released. Separate trade dress protections cover previous models.
      • lol

        @DeRSS: So Android that pretty much looks nothing like iOS is a slavish clone, but the MBA whose ONLY notable difference from Sony's 2004 design is not using a cylinder shape is somehow unique enough and innovative?
      • @CFWhitman

        From the USPTO site: "A trademark is a brand name. A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services. "

        So the stylized Jeep grill icon can be a trademark; the grill itself would be protected by a design patent.

        Much like the way you can't patent an idea, you can't patent an idealized representation of an item. However, once you make it real, it is eligible for patent protection. In this case, a design patent.