One could easily opine there are only so many ways to design a tablet or a smartphone. The argument has its merits and isn’t far from truth. With today’s mobile gadgets increasingly becoming basically a piece of glass framed by a bezel of sorts, the question of who’s copying who gets muddied.

As you know, Apple filed the first in a series of “look-and-feel” lawsuits against Samsung in April 2011 over the design of the iPhone and iPad, forcing the South Korean consumer electronics conglomerate to fire back with infringement allegations of its own.

As both companies remain entangled in a complicated web of lawsuits in courts around the world, Samsung Mobile’s vice president of design Lee Min-hyuk has gone on the record to say he did not rip off the iPhone when designing the original Galaxy S smartphone…

We’re not sure what Jonathan Ive, Lee Min-hyuk’s counterpart at Apple, would have to say about this. Be that as it may, here’s what Samsung’s design guru said Friday in an interview with Reuters:

I’ve made thousands of sketches and hundreds of prototype products (for the Galaxy). Does that mean I was putting on a mock show for so long, pretending to be designing? […] As a designer, there’s an issue of dignity. The Galaxy is original from the beginning, and I’m the one who made it. It’s a totally different product with a different design language and different technology infused.

An Apple court filing recently discovered by The Verge proves Apple met with Samsung four times in 2010, trying to settle patent woes. In July of 2010, according to Bloomberg, Steve Jobs himself reached out to Samsung, Apple’s biggest supplier of displays, flash NAND chips and processors powering its gizmos. Talks went nowhere so Apple eventually proceeded with litigation.

Lee Min-hyuk also told Reuters his job as a designer is “to blend new functions and technology with aesthetic beauty”. Interesting enough, Samsung too has different teams studying new technology trends, “working on future design trends and Samsung’s own design identity, and they’re all regularly exchanging ideas with designers”.

This sounds a lot like Apple’s approach where the design process takes center stage, from the earliest phases of product conceptualization all the way through to how it’s gonna look and feel in your hand.

I also like this quote suggesting that Samsung is finally beginning to realize that it’s the software, stupid:

We were told so many times until the early part of last year that Samsung is not good at software. We’re not hearing that as often any more. I’m confident that one day Samsung will make a product that defines our time, and I hope it’s one of mine.

Again, Ive and his design team are deeply involved in not only the physical aspects of the product, but the underlying software as well. In a recent interview with Mark Prigg of the London evening Standard from Apple’s headquarters, Ive gushed:

The iPhoto app we created for the new iPad completely consumes you and you forget you are using an iPad.

iPhoto for iPad lets you make quick edits to your photos and share them across social networks. The app topped one million downloads in ten days, raking in $5 million in revenue (it costs $4.99 a pop).

And in a profile over at The Chicago Tribune,  Lee Min-hyuk confesses he isn’t Samsung’s Ive (yet):

I might not be at (Ive’s) level yet, but I believe Samsung will produce such iconic products one day. It’s not just effort that makes it possible for a new product to be a massive hit. It also has to be timely, and technology should be ready to make a certain design a reality.

London-born Ive is one of Apple’s most prized assets. Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson that he made sure nobody can touch his “spiritual partner”, as he put it. “That’s the way I set it up”, Jobs told Isaacson.

Jony, as friends affectionately call him, thinks while other manufacturers strive to create something different and marketable, his team at Apple is focused on making something they love, knowing other people will love it, too.

As you can see in the above depiction of the Apple vs. Samsung design, courtesy of AppleInsider, there are more than a few similarities between the iPhone 3GS and Samsung’s Galaxy S smartphone, both on hardware and software fronts.

With that in mind, I really do wish common sense prevailed and both firms settled patent issues out of the court, so we could all put this behind and move on.

Aren’t you too getting tired of these patent suits already?