October 12, 2016

Argument on Samsung design at Supreme Court


Apple claimed that most smartphones sold by Samsung this decade infringe the design of the iPhone. The Federal Circuit thus affirmed a $400-million verdict holding that Samsung's copying of the distinctive front screen and graphical user interface of the iPhone infringed the design patents held by Apple.

The US Supreme Court heard the argument in this case. In Samsung Electronics, Samsung Corporation challenged the $400-million verdict in Apple's favor that held Samsung's copying of the graphical user interface and front screen of the iPhone infringed design patents held by Apple.

The challenge involves the interpretation of a portion of the US Code that states that any person who applies a patented design 'to any article of manufacture' is 'liable ... to the extent of his total profit'. The question before the court is whether it was appropriate to order Samsung to pay Apple all profits from its infringing phones, as opposed to some subset of the profits attributable to the infringing features of the phones.

The justices of the US Supreme Court concluded that the court of appeals erred in not considering the possibility that the relevant 'article of manufacture' might be something less than the entire phone. It seems clear that an opinion stating that the conclusion would be sufficient to reverse the court of appeals, so the court well might stop at that point.

To be sure, at least some of the justices seem willing to offer some guidance as to how the court of appeals might decide whether the 'article of manufacture' is something less than the entire product. However, none of them seemed inclined to decide whether the question remains preserved in this case; thus, it is unclear whether the court will even offer its views on what the standard should be for identifying the relevant 'article', much less apply that standard in this case.

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