Apple saw a prototype for a tablet computer more than a decade before the iPad was released in 2010, says a news technology developer called as a trial witness by Samsung Electronics.
Videotaped testimony by Roger Fidler, who heads the digital publishing programme at the University of Missouri, was shown yesterday to the jury in Samsung's multibillion-dollar intellectual property dispute with Apple over smartphones and tablets.
Fidler said in a written declaration he started working on a tablet design in 1981 and that "Apple personnel were exposed to my tablet ideas and prototypes" during a period in the mid-1990s when the company collaborated with Knight-Ridder's information design laboratory in Colorado.
"My feeling was that it should be something that's lightweight, portable, with a flat screen that had an ability to use a touch screen," Fidler testified, referring to the first mock-up of his tablet from the early 1980s.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, sued Samsung in April 2011, accusing it of copying patented designs, and Samsung countersued.
The case is the first to go before a federal jury in a battle being waged on four continents for dominance in a smartphone market valued by Bloomberg Industries at US$219.1 billion ($272 billion).
Samsung's use of Fidler's testimony, as with other witnesses the company has called since it started putting on its case, is intended to discredit Apple's claims of originality behind the patented technology used in the iPad and the iPhone.
Fidler, who began his career in the newspaper industry in 1961, had a longstanding interest in developing "interactive, easy to read, portable electronic tablets," he said in his declaration.
He wrote an essay in 1981 in which he envisioned how newspapers might look in 2000, suggesting they may appear on "portable flat-screen displays".
In a session without the jury present, Samsung lawyer Charles Verhoeven, defending the company's attempt to show the testimony, told US District Judge Lucy Koh it was central to the company's case and that Apple had successfully blocked Fidler from testifying in person. He did not explain how or why.
The jury did not see any videotape recording of Apple's lawyers questioning Fidler.