Samsung-Apple Smackdown Heading To Supreme Court?


Samsung hopes to take its long-running patent battle with Apple to the Supreme Court. It wants a ruling on two significant issues in the way patents operate in the tech business.

The dispute feels like its been going on forever and in tech years that’s not far from the truth: some of the patents involved in this particular case relate to the iPhone 3G. Trying to recap the legal chronology would make for painful reading but the short version is that Apple won the initial case in 2012 and was awarded more than a billion dollars. That figure has bounced up and down through the appeals process and currently stands at a bill of $548 million for Samsung.

The only legal option open to Samsung is the Supreme Court which means it not only has to find a point of law to be clarified (rather than further debate the facts of the case) but convince the court that this point of law is important enough to rank among the 75 or so cases it hears each year.

Samsung — with the support of several tech giants including eBay, Facebook and Google — is putting forward two points of law it wants re-examined. Both relate to design patents, which take into account how a device or component looks rather than the more traditional patent basis of solely assessing functionality.

The first point is whether courts do enough to make sure a finding of design patent violation isn’t based too heavily on a purely functional element that itself is not protected. In other words, Samsung believes it shouldn’t be a patent violation if the only protected element you’ve copied is a design.

The second point is how courts calculate damages after a violation. At the moment this sometimes involves figuring out a percentage of the profits the violator made from the relevant device. Samsung believes that’s excessive as often the violation only relates to a specific component. It wants damages to be based on an appropriate proportion of the total profit — something that would have major financial impact on damage awards given the sheer number of components in many of today’s devices.

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