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Armed with lasers, Apple expert replicates tablet relic

Just how far is Apple going to prove its case against Samsung? Far enough for one of its experts to painstakingly recreate a 1994 tablet prototype.

The Fidler tablet.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- While the majority of the exhibits in the case between Apple and Samsung are commercially-available products and electronic documents, there's one peculiarity that stands out.

That would be a re-creation of the Fidler tablet, a skunkworks project out of publishing conglomerate Knight Ridder that very well could have changed both the technology and media industries had it seen the light of day. Roger Fidler worked with a team on a media tablet prototype when he ran the Knight Ridder Information Design Lab in the early 1990s.

The product never made it to market, of course. But that didn't stop Samsung from holding it out as proof that Apple was not the first to imagine a tablet with rounded corners and a flat digital display on the front.

That brings us back to its use as a piece of evidence, which surprisingly comes from Apple. Peter Bressler, an industrial who testified for the iPad-maker in the trial, went through a seemingly painstaking process to bring the device to life so that the jury can see just how different it looked like when compared to the iPad.

In the hurried parade of testimonies last Friday, Bressler briefly brought out a replica of the device, which is being entered as evidence to the trial. How it came to be is no small feat.

"This is a duplicate that I had created of Mr. Fidler's original tablet," Bressler told the court last week. "I went to Missouri with a model maker laser scanner and digitized the surface of (the) model, photographed them, measured them so that we could fabricated it to be exactly the same...right down to the scratches and the paint."

Apple is using the replica as ammo to defend its patent for the design of the iPad, which Samsung has gone after with prior art. The company originally attempted to bring in references to old sci-fi movies and TV shows, through the judge in the case has kept that evidence out. Since then, Samsung has largely relied on the Fidler, as well as the TC1000, a Microsoft Windows-based tablet PC from Compaq, made just ahead of the company being acquired by Hewlett-Packard.

According to Bressler the Fidler tablet varies significantly from the tablet depicted in Apple's design patent. In his testimony on Friday, Bressler pointed to the fact that the glass on the front of the Fidler did not go edge to edge like on the iPad, and that the Fidler had cutouts for memory cards and a stylus.

We'll know if the jury agrees with that point when they reach a verdict, which could come as soon as this week. Both sides are slated to go through their closing arguments on Tuesday, with jury deliberation to follow.

Complete coverage: Apple v. Samsung, a battle over billions