Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Samsung V. Apple Patent Case

Image courtesy of afagen

The ongoing patent battle between smartphone standouts Samsung and Apple will get its day before the Supreme Court this year, as the nation’s highest court has decided to hear arguments about one facet of the long-simmering dispute.

In Dec. 2015, shortly after it looked like Samsung might have to pay Apple $548 million for allegedly copying the look and feel of the iPhone — most notably the pinch-to-zoom feature (aka the ‘915 patent) — the Korean tech giant filed a petition [PDF] with the Supremes in the hopes of overturning District and Circuit court rulings in Apple’s favor.

This morning, SCOTUS decided to hear the case, but only one of the two questions asked:
“Where a design patent is applied to only a component of a product, should an award of infringer’s profits be limited to those profits attributable to the component?”

Basically — if Samsung infringed on the patents, should the damages only be limited to the profits related to those specific patents, or to the device as a whole?

Samsung’s position is backed by several big names in tech and consumer advocacy. In a brief [PDF] filed in support of the petition, Google, Dell, HP, NewEgg, Facebook, Vizio, and others said the federal appeals court made a “deeply flawed” decision by not limiting Samsung’s liability to the infringing aspects of its devices.

“If allowed to stand, it will lead to absurd results and have a devastating impact on companies… that spend billions of dollars annually on research and development for complex technological products and their components,” reads the brief, which says the appeals court ruling is problematic “because it ignores the reality of modern, multicomponent technological products. Those complex products, which have become the norm throughout the consumer electronics industry, are not purchased primarily based on the design of one or more isolated components.”

Likewise, a second brief [PDF] filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge raises concerns about the appeals court’s reckoning that that patent law requires courts to award damages without regard to the scope of the infringement.

“Design patents can be drawn to even the most insignificant and basic components of large, complex products, and the actual value of such patents is minimal at best,” explains the brief. “But even a patent relevant to 1% of a product, under the Federal Circuit’s announced rule, receives 100% of the profits on that product. The potential disparity between patent value and total profits would likely discourage many innovators from entering markets, cutting directly against the very purpose of patents as promoters of innovation.”

In response to the Samsung petition, Apple said that its competitor’s argument “depends on a made-up narrative in which Samsung, not Apple, is the innovator, despite the overwhelming evidence that Samsung copied the iPhone’s innovative design.”

Apple maintains that the court rulings in its favor “broke no new legal ground; they simply applied the statute and well-settled law to the extraordinary record of infringement and copying in this case.”

In an emailed statement to Consumerist, Samsung says it welcomes the SCOTUS decision to hear the case: “We thank the many large technology companies, 37 intellectual property professors, and several groups representing small business, which have supported our position. The Court’s review of this case can lead to a fair interpretation of patent law that will support creativity and reward innovation.”

Arguments in this case will likely be heard in the fall.