You might think that, with Samsung’s exploding phones and Apple ordered to pay a €13 billion Irish tax bill, these two technology giants would have more important things to worry about than design patents. But with about $400 million on the table this couldn’t be further from the truth. This is because, on Tuesday, the highest court in the United States, the US Supreme Court, began proceedings to decide whether the settlement that Samsung was ordered to pay to Apple, a total of almost $550 million, was justified.
Samsung paid this amount to Apple after a court back in 2012 found that Samsung had indeed infringed three of Apple’s design patents. Between them, these three design patents covered the rounded corners, the front of the device and the layout of the icons of Apple’s iPhone. Several models of Samsung’s phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S, were found to infringe these.
The figure of compensation from this ruling was chosen as it was the entirety of Samsung’s profits from those models of phones. Samsung paid out this amount in full last December but, with this high court challenge, whilst not disputing the ruling, claims that this figure is unjustly high and wants almost $400 million back from Apple.
Retro Rug Ruling
The law that required Samsung to pay out so much in damages stems from the last time a design patent case came before the US Supreme Court, back in 1885. Then the case was about two carpet makers copying a protected carpet pattern without permission.
The copiers lost, but the court ruled that they only had to pay out 6 cents to the owners of the carpet design patent. This event prompted statesman Orville H. Platt to lobby the US Congress into amending the Patent Act so that the damages the infringer would have to pay would be the entire profits that their infringing product had generated, or $250, whichever was greater.
The Argument between Samsung and Apple
Samsung is now arguing that this law, with its origins in the 19th century carpet industry, needs changing. They argue that, just because a part of their product was deemed a copy of someone else’s, doesn’t give that other person the right to all the profits; that the reason their phone sold was because of more than just its resemblance in part to Apple’s. Apple, unsurprisingly, argues the opposite. The Supreme Court will not make its ruling until June but, when it does, the value of enforcing a design patent could be considerably changed.
If you have a design you’d like protecting, why not contact one of our Intellectual Property attorneys?