Though some of Apple's lawsuit against Samsung for copying the iPhone is based on patents, a bunch seems based on just the same old kind of "look and feel" lawsuit that Apple pursued for years against Microsoft.
In addition to the patent and trademark claims, Apple also alleges infringement of the “trade dress” of the iPhone and iPad, a legal term meaning they sure look a whole lot alike. Apple charges that everything from the icons on the Galaxy screen to the way the phone is packaged infringe on Apple’s designs.
“Samsung’s Galaxy Tab computer tablet also slavishly copies a combination of several elements of the Apple Product Configuration Trade Dress,” Apple says in its suit, noting that Samsung’s tablet, like Apple’s, uses a similar rectangular design with rounded corners, similar black border and array of icons.
-AllThingsD, April 19, 2011
I think it's widely viewed now that the Microsoft lawsuit was a waste of Apple's resources and a serious management diversion. There are so many lawsuits flying in the smart phone wars right now it's too soon to draw any conclusions about Apple's Samsung lawsuit. But it's a troubling sign when companies decide to compete in the courtroom instead of in the marketplace.
UPDATE: Florian Mueller has a comprehensive and highly informative discussion of the lawsuit on his blog. He expects Apple will go all-out in the patent wars to halt Android's momentum.
I believe Apple's management would -- from a shareholder value point of view -- be well-advised to work out a settlement with Nokia sooner rather than later (even though I guess Apple would end up a net payer in such a deal since Nokia owns many more patents in this field) and to focus entirely on Android. It's not hard to imagine a competitive landscape in which both Apple and Nokia can prosper in parallel. But if Apple fails to fend off Android, it will within a year or two find itself in a situation like that of Research in Motion, even if at a higher level (initially...). Apple has realized this already, as its new lawsuit against Samsung shows, but given what's at stake, I think Apple would have to do much more than this. It would have to sue more Android device makers and over more patents.
-FOSS Patents, April 19, 2011