Apple's helpful guidelines for competitors to avoid patent infringement

As long as rival tablets and smartphones don't look anything like tablets or smartphones, everything's cool

Apple's ability to innovate, along with its commitment to quality and attention to detail -- not to mention its brilliant marketing -- has made it the most successful technology company in the world.

So competing with Apple, even in the best of circumstances, can be a tremendous challenge. Throw in uncertainty about whether your products violate Apple patents, and you can see why executives at rival technology companies stay awake at night.

Fortunately, as PCWorld's Melanie Pinola reports, Apple recently filed a brief in its patent infringement lawsuit against Samsung in which Cupertino attorneys compiled a list of smartphone and tablet design alternatives that Samsung could have used to avoid this whole mess in the first place!

In its public legal brief from Nov. 28, Apple lays out what Samsung could have done differently to avoid "slavishly" copying the iPhone and iPad designs:

For the iPhone design, alternative smartphone designs include: front surfaces that are not black or clear; front surfaces that are not rectangular, not flat, and without rounded corners; display screens that are more square than rectangular or not rectangular at all; display screens that are not centered on the front surface of the phone and that have substantial lateral borders; speaker openings that are not horizontal slots with rounded ends and that are not centered above the display screen; front surfaces that contain substantial adornment; and phones without bezels at all or very different looking bezels that are not thin, uniform, and with an inwardly sloping profile.

[A]lternate tablet computer designs include: overall shapes that are not rectangular with four flat sides or that do not have four rounded corners; front surfaces that are not completely flat or clear and that have substantial adornment; thick frames rather than a thin rim around the front surface; and profiles that are not thin relative to the D’889 or that have a cluttered appearance.

Got all that? No rectangles, no flat surfaces, nothing black or clear, no rounded corners. Easy work-arounds for a plucky and imaginative competitor.

Keep in mind, though, that those are just the proposed design alternatives we were intended to read in the redacted court filing. Many other suggestions were blacked out for some reason. However, by holding my laptop up to the light and guessing wildly, I was able to figure out some of the other design and functional alternatives suggested by Apple to help competitors avoid "thermonuclear war." Here they are:

* All other smartphones and tablets must be made of materials not found on Earth.

* No "on" or "off" buttons.

* Rechargeable batteries allowed, but recharging them is prohibited.

* Device screens must be opaque.

* All communications functions allowed, with the exception of phone calls and texting.

* All online activities allowed, with the exception of Internet access.

* No rival device product names can contain the letters "a," "p," "l" or "e." In fact, just to be safe, all vowels should be avoided.

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