Gizmodo notes that Samsung has cited a sci-fi film in its patent defense against Apple. The issue is a matter of proving prior art to disqualify a patent.
if the realm of science fiction becomes fair game, the fights of Samsung—and any other company Apple might square off against—could become easier. I’d never have guessed Space Age design and beautiful futurism could be a liability.
Another defense that comes to mind in this case is that a patent is supposed to be non-obvious. Patents are not supposed to be granted for some idea that is commonly used to solve problems. Both the prior art and obviousness issues are significant because the USPTO has not done well in these areas. A result has been to put the patent itself as the value rather than the thing the patent was to protect.
That is why, for instance, Google seeks to buy Motorola’s mobile business so it can acquire a patent portfolio. In order to fend off patent infringement lawsuits, the first defense is that of having a good, visible, offense to hand. The larger companies with patent portfolios can mount a counter-thread to any infringement threat they get. That means they can sign a ‘truce’ not to harass each other. The result is that it is the new entries in the field, the entrepreneurs, who are most at risk.
With the technology of today, sci-fi of the past might well be a good resource to help define both prior art as well as obviousness. That might help narrow down the patent brouhaha to matters of actual innovation or unique design and not general ideas. That would greatly assist in removing inhibitions in the marketing of new innovation.