US Supreme Court agrees to hear Samsung’s appeal against Apple

March 22, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear Samsung Electronics’ appeal of the massive damages it was ordered to pay for infringing upon Apple’s design patents, a decision that could lead to significant reduction in the amount.

Samsung paid Apple US$548 million in damages awarded by a lower court for copying designs of the iPhone. In December, Samsung took the case to the highest court, asking it to reconsider the scope of design patents and how damages are calculated, in an effort to get up to $399 million reimbursed.

On Monday, the court said it will take up the case, but consider only one of the two questions raised by Samsung, which is, “Where a design patent is applied to only a component of a product, should an award of infringer’s profits be limited to those profits attributable to the component?”

The question reflects the South Korean smartphone giant’s claims that it is unfair for a patent violator to hand over all profits from sales of a product using the patent design even if that design made only a tiny contribution to sales.

At the time of appeals to the Supreme Court, Samsung claimed that “a patented design might be the essential feature of a spoon or rug. But the same is not true of smartphones, which contain countless other features that give them remarkable functionality wholly unrelated to their design.”

It will mark the first design patents case the highest U.S. court has taken up in 120 years. The last Supreme Court cases over design patents involved spoon handles in the 1870s and carpets in the 1890s.

The court is expected to hear arguments and rule in the nine-month term that starts in October.

Monday’s decision bodes well for Samsung because it means there is a sufficient reason to consider its case.

It is rare for the highest court to agree to hear appeals. About 7,000 appeals are filed with the court every year, but only some 70 of them are heard.

The case is one of the two last-remaining lawsuits between the two smartphone giants.

In the other case, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled last month that Samsung did not violate three Apple patents and therefore does not need to pay about US$120 million in damages.

The ruling overturned the 2012 verdict by a federal court in San Jose, Calif., that ordered Samsung to pay Apple US$119.6 million for violating three patents on “quick links,” “slide-to-unlock” and “auto-correct” technologies.