6 December 2016Patents

SCOTUS reverses Federal Circuit in Samsung v Apple smartphone brawl

Samsung looks to have succeeded in the latest round of its design patent brawl against Apple, after a ruling issued by the US Supreme Court today.

In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit which had ordered Samsung to pay the US company $399 million in damages for design patent infringement.

That was Samsung’s entire profit from the sale of its infringing smartphones.

The patents concerned were D618,677, D593,087 and D604,305. The ‘677 patent covers the rectangular front face of a smartphone with curved corners, the ‘087 patent introduces a rim surrounding the bottom of the device, and the ‘305 patent relates to the shape of the grid displaying app icons on the screen.

Section 289 of the US Patent Code states that a party is liable for the total profit of a product that infringes another party’s design patent.

But Samsung rejected the notion of applying damages based on total profits and filed a writ of certiorari in December last year.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in March this year and oral arguments were held in October.

Today, Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the court.

“The only question we resolve today is whether, in the case of a multicomponent product, the relevant ‘article of manufacture’ must always be the end product sold to the consumer or whether it can also be a component of that product,” she said.

She held that the term “article of manufacture” is broad enough to encompass “both a product sold to a consumer as well as a component of that product”.

According to the court, the Federal Circuit’s narrower reading of “article of manufacture” cannot be squared with the text of section 289.

The Federal Circuit had found that components of the infringing smartphones could not be the relevant “article of manufacture” because “consumers could not purchase those components separately from the smartphones”.

Additionally, the court declined to resolve whether “the relevant article of manufacture for each design patent at issue here is the smartphone or a particular smartphone component” because there was not adequate briefing by the parties.

“Doing so is not necessary to resolve the question presented, and the Federal Circuit may address any remaining issues on remand,” said the court.

The case has been remanded back to the lower court.

More analysis to follow.

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More on this story

7 December 2016   After the US Supreme Court unanimously reversed a design patent decision that had gone against Samsung in its dispute with Apple, lawyers say that the ruling “only scratches the surface” of resolving the case.
8 February 2017   The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has remanded a suit between Apple and Samsung centring on design patent damages, in the latest development of their long-running smartphone battle.
25 April 2017   Lawyers acting for technology companies Apple and Samsung have filed opening briefs in their $400 million patent dispute.