But Fidler’s idea may end up defeating a patent suit by Apple against Samsung:

Apple is using this design patent — in legal papers it is known as D889 — to argue in federal court that Samsung copied the iPad with its competing Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet, released in 2011. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company even took the extraordinary step of asking a judge to halt sales of the Galaxy Tab before trial. “The overall appearance of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is strikingly similar to the D889 patent,” Apple lawyers argued in legal briefs, “and shows Samsung’s copying. Every major element of Apple’s patented design is found in the Galaxy Tab 10.1.”

But Samsung’s lawyers countered that Fidler’s video put the design into the public domain in 1994, well before Apple filed its patent. (They mentioned his 1981 essay, too.) Samsung’s lawyers also noted that when Apple filed its patent, the company made no mention of Fidler’s device even though the company, which had its lab next to Fidler’s, knew of it because it had worked with him and his lab. The U.S. District judge in the case, Lucy H. Koh, declined Apple’s request to halt sales of the Galaxy Tab, in part because she found Samsung’s argument about Fidler’s tablet convincing.

Fidler will testify against Apple as a paid witness.

If you’ve never seen that 1994 Knight-Ridder video introducing the tablet computer and what it would mean for news, watch it:

And while you’re at it, read Michael Shapiro on “The Newspaper That Almost Seized the Future,” from CJR’s November/December issue.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.