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Apple coveted Sony's style for original iPhone

Court filings in the legal battle between Samsung and Apple suggest Cupertino had a massive crush on the Japanese company.

Apple has accused Samsung of "slavishly" copying its designs, but documents submitted to a US court in the ongoing legal wranglings between the pair suggest Apple may have also looked elsewhere for its smart phone design inspiration.

And the company reportedly inspiring Cupertino -- at least in part -- is Sony, Martyn Williams of the IDG News Service reports.

This intriguing tidbit has emerged in documents obtained from Apple and filed by Samsung's lawyers to the US District Court of San Jose in Northern California, where the case will be heard.

Williams reports that the Apple documents include "Sony like" mock-ups of smart phones created by an in-house Apple designer yet bearing the Sony logo.

According to Williams' report, the court filing suggests Apple asked one of its designers to answer the question, "what would Sony do?" as part of the process to design the original iPhone. The court filings also include images created with a 3D CAD program of a mock handset, which includes design elements found on Sony hardware -- including a jog wheel used on Sony's Clie personal digital assistants.

In a second submission to the court -- an email from a senior member of Apple's industrial design team to Jony Ive, Cupertino's head of design -- the designer preparing iPhone prototypes, Shin Nishibori, is referred to as "the sony-style chappy".

"He's able to achieve a much smaller-looking product with a much nicer shape to have next to your ear and in your pocket," wrote Richard Howarth, a senior member of Apple's design team, of the Nishibori design when compared to Apple's prototype of the moment, Williams reports.

However, the IDG report also notes that while the court filings appear to show Apple was looking to Sony for inspiration, the resulting designs and mock-ups did not look like any Sony phones of the time. Nor did they resemble the original iPhone -- they looked more like the iPhone 4 than Apple's more curvy first-gen handset, reports Williams, featuring a silver metal band running around the edges and a flat front and rear.

Apple and Samsung's legal teams are due to start arguing in front of a jury next week -- so expect a fresh round of claims and counter-claims to start flying soon.