U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit partially reversed the $930 verdict that was originally handed down against Samsung way back in 2012. The appeals court found that Samsung had indeed violated Apple’s design patents and two utility patents related to the iPhone, but concluded that Samsung’s actions didn’t go far enough to represent a violation of Apple’s trade dress. In fact, the appeals court said that the iPhone trade dress, which refers to the look and feel of the device, was not “protectable.”
“We therefore vacate the jury’s damages awards against he Samsung products that were found liable for trade dress dilution and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” read the appeals court decision.
The trade dress rejection is understandable, and plays into one of the biggest complaints against Apple’s patent infringement suit against Samsung — how can a company patent a rectangular-shaped smartphone with rounded corners? Is that even possible? The court obviously doesn’t think so, and says that painting with such a broad brush sets a dangerous precedent.
The appeals court cited the 1995 case of Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods., writing, “If a product’s functional features could be used as trademarks… a monopoly over such features could be obtained without regard to whether they qualify as patents and cold be extended forever.”
Apple attempted to register the following as iPhone 3G/3GS trade dress violations:
- a rectangular product with four evenly rounded corners
- a flat, clear surface covering the front of the product
- a display screen under the clear surface
- substantial black borders above and below the display screen and narrower
- a row of small dots on the display screen
- a matrix of colorful square icons with evenly rounded corners within the display screen
- an unchanging bottom dock of colorful square icons with evenly rounded corners set off from the display’s other icons
Apple first sued Samsung in April 2011, and was awarded 1.05 billion in damages by a jury in August 2012. Those damages were reduced to $930 million by a district court. According to Reuters, this latest wrinkle could knock off another $382 million from Apple’s judgment.