Could a sunflower be key to the Apple, Samsung patent trial?

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It’s an incredibly simple, but evocative image. It’s a yellow sunflower with green leaves and it’s the icon for Apple’s Photos App. The image might seem arbitrary, but it could be key to the Cupertino-based giant’s patent trial with Samsung.

During yesterday’s court session, Mac Iconographer Susan Kare was called in as an expert witness. As well as most of the icons on the original Mac, Kare was responsible for the designs on the original Solitaire that shipped with Windows.

Samsung’s lawyer has, of course, argued that most of similar icons can be explained by the fact that the symbols are more or less universal. We call this the “what the hell else were we supposed you use?” defence. The sunflower though is a little different.

In order to understand why, it’s worth looking at Kare’s explanation of why Apple chose the sunflower:

This image appears to be a realistic illustration or photograph of a single sunflower matted against a blue sky background as a symbol for the Photos application (used for viewing photos on the device). The flower evokes a photograph but is an apparently arbitrary choice for a category often represented by iconic vacation scenes (e.g., beaches, dogs, or mountain landscapes). It symbolizes photos, but it does not suggest a literal representation of a printed photo or typical digital photo aspect ratio. It seems to be a generic photograph — without a reference to any particular camera or photographic end product. The sunflower is a non-controversial subject that is not specific, such as a photo of a particular, identifiable person or place, and the blue sky both provides contrast against black and is a general symbol of optimism. It also echoes the sunny day image on the Weather icon. The icon is the subject of U.S. Trademark Reg. No.

So when it came time for Samsung to develop its galley button, it could have chosen anything (on my own Galaxy Note, the image has been replaced with one portraying a green landscape). Instead, it chose a yellow sunflower, with green leaves.

Yes, there are differences between the two sunflowers. The shot Samsung has of its one a close up, rather than the stem and whole flower head Apple used. But still, why choose a sunflower?

Apple will be hoping the jury sees that the similarities between a number of functions on Samsung’s devices go beyond universal symbolism. A 132 page internal memo comparing the Samsung Galaxy SI to the iPhone probably has the Cupertino-based giant nosing ahead though.

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