Any third grader knows that its wrong to copy. But at the same time, every great product stands on the shoulders have previous inventions. I think the precise location of the line here is very difficult to pinpoint; maybe impossible.
Apple has a dilema - it's design philosophy is simplicity, pureness, elegance- The iphone was certainly the first phone to simplify the look - a smooth touch screen interface devoid of busy buttons. But this also makes it difficult to patent. It is easier to patent complex buttons and shapes - remember that RIM had patented its keyboard buttons and had sued Palm when the treo came up with similar ones.
Apple certainly charted a new path with the first iphone and showed the world that phones could be made simple but unfortunately simplicity cannot easily be protected.
The difference is that when IBM entered the PC market they sold a license to clone their architecture.
I agree with you that Apple's patent of a rectangular smart phone, or the concept of a hyper link should never been granted by the USPTO.
The Palm Pilot PDA pre-dates Apple iPhone and it was rectangular, was touch sensitive and used the concept of hyperlinks.
Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me."
When one is a devout, fervent member of a particular religious group or sect, call him a "zealot," then the differences between his faith's detailed teachings and those of other faiths seem enormous. What to most other mortals appear to be minutiae are instead all-important to the devoted.
I think this is what we're up against. It's a wonder that this sort of ridiculous nonsense didn't occur when Compaq and many others started to market PC clones. They're rectangular! They have a dispay and keyboard!
I have to admit. What is most offputting to me is that all this brouhaha is caused by something as, honestly, trivial as a brand of smartphone.
Perhaps Apple should start putting brightly lit Apple symbols on their iPhones, so that the faithful devoted will be sure to let everyone around them know that they have The Original.