The latest in the Apple-Samsung legal drama: according to court documents filed by Samsung, Cupertino has indirectly ripped off Sony for its handset’s aesthetics by adopting the Japanese giant’s design language. The Galaxy maker points to a 2006 Businessweek interview with Sony’s product designers Takashi Ashida and Yujin Morisawa in order to establish prior art and prove that Sony’s design philosophy influenced the iPhone’s original design direction.

The iPod Godfather Tony Fadell apparently showed the Businessweek article to Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs and design chief Jony Ive who then allegedly approved use of some of the ideas outlined in the interview for early iPhone mockups…

An excerpt from the Businessweek interview, describing Sony’s design philosophy:

The Sony spirit is about being original, not a copy. We generally don’t rely on surveys, because we’re always trying to make something that’s never been done before.

Not relying on surveys sounds very much Apple-like.

When Sony opened its first design center in 1961, the color theme was black and silver. The idea was to do away with excessive ornamentation. We’re continuing that tradition.

Samsung’s argument: Apple borrowed the simplified design that Sony first used for the Walkman NW-A1200 music player that designer Yujin Morisawa created by getting rid of the buttons and doing away with excessive ornamentation.

Of note here is Steve Jobs’ disdain for physical buttons. Asked to detail how much Apple’s iPod influenced Morisawa’s design for the Walkman NW-A1200, he responded:

When I started this project, that was my concern. I looked at the first Walkman [which debuted in 1979]. Then I thought, “How can I give shape to the music?” Music doesn’t have shape; it’s flowing. I was listening to music and waving my hand in the air. I thought there shouldn’t be an end to its lines. So I started drawing a round shape, and I kept moving the line.

My team had shown me their sketch: It was a square with a screen and buttons. Most other players have a screen and buttons. My first mock-up didn’t have buttons. I didn’t want buttons. With any digital-music player, the hard disk drive and chips are similar.

I thought, “How can we make the layout different?” I knew what would go inside, so I could start the design from the outside. I knew how big the hard disk drive would be, how many chips there would be.

John Paczkowski, writing for the Wall Street Journal-owned AllThingsD blog, cited Samsung’s trial brief which asserts that Apple stole the iPhone’s design from Sony:

Right after this article was circulated internally, Apple industrial designer Shin Nishibori was directed to prepare a “Sony-like” design for an Apple phone and then had CAD drawings and a three-dimensional model prepared.

Confirming the origin of the design, these internal Apple CAD drawings prepared at Mr. Nishibori‘s direction even had the “Sony” name prominently emblazoned on the phone design, as the below images from Apple‘s internal documents show.

Apple’s Sony-inspired iPhone mockup can be seen at the top of the article. Note that floating this mockup internally is not necessarily problematic in and of itself.

This, however, could be:

Soon afterward, on March 8, 2006, Apple designer Richard Howarth reported that, in contrast to another internal design that was then under consideration, Mr. Nishibori‘s “Sony-style” design enabled “a much smaller-looking product with a much nicer shape to have next to your ear and in your pocket” and had greater “size and shape/comfort benefits.”

Furthermore, Nishibori later confirmed in his deposition testimony that his Sony-inspired iPhone mockup “changed the course of the project that yielded the final iPhone design”. Samsung is leveraging this fact to instill the notion that there is enough prior art available to weaken Apple’s legal position. Samsung’s legal brief reads:

Samsung has used the very same public domain design concepts that Apple borrowed from other competitors, including Sony, to develop the iPhone.

Wow, this is getting more and more interesting.

Samsung previously asserted that Apple would have sold zero iPhones if it hadn’t been for its patented technology pertaining to wireless standards.

Court documents also show that Google tried to influence its partner Samsung not to copy the iPhone so much. Another ruling by a U.K. court today has it that Apple won’t be required to post free adverts for Samsung on its website and in British newspapers (saying the Galaxy tablets didn’t copy the iPad’s design) until at least October.

The high-stake Apple-Samsung lawsuit is scheduled to begin July 30.

Are you confident in Apple’s legal position?