Samsung has won a key Supreme Court victory in its battle with Apple over iPhone patent infringements. It could make for what some see as a fairer system for tech patent disputes.
Way back in 2012, a jury concluded that Samsung phones had copied key design elements from the iPhone. That ruling has been upheld and the dispute since then has been about how to calculate the appropriate damages. One significant point is that the patents involve design elements rather than the technology itself.
At the end of the original set of arguments, Samsung handed over $548 million in damages. However, it later said this was unfair because the amount was based on all of Samsung’s profits from the relevant handsets. According to Samsung the damages should instead have been $399 million lower to take into account that the design elements in questions weren’t the sole reason customers chose to buy the phones.
The case went to the Supreme Court as the two sides couldn’t agree on how to interpret the law that allows for an award of all profits. It dates back so far that one of the cases cited in the argument involved carpets at a point when the design was the only significant difference between models.
The Supreme Court has now agreed with Samsung’s argument. It’s set aside the relevant section of the damages award and told the appeals court that came up with the $548 million figure to make a fresh calculation.
The impact of the ruling on future cases isn’t as clear-cut as normally happens with the Supreme Court. The decision does establish a precedent that design patent damages don’t have to be done on an “all profits” basis. However, the justices made clear they were not recommending a particular system or scale for deciding when companies should only pay a proportion of profits, or how much those profits should be.