We may never which came first, the chicken or the egg, but if it comes as any consolation the highest court in the land has agreed to settle a longstanding and tired dispute between Apple and Samsung over smartphones. Specifically, the United States Supreme Court will decide how much of a $399 million patent infringement award Apple is entitled to.
This is a case that's been weaving through the court system for the past six years. Apple sued Samsung in 2010 for patent infringement, saying the South Korean electronics maker copied the look and feel of its iPhone handset. Apple ultimately won its suit, with jurors in 2012 awarding Apple a whopping $1.05 billion in damages. That amount was later reduced to $548 million through appeals.
Figure related to Apple's D618,677 patent
Now Samsung is looking to recoup $399 million of that award, which it's already paid Apple. The $399 million at dispute is related to three design patents, including one for a black rectangle with rounded corners (D618,677), a bezel on surrounding rim (D593,087), and a grid of 16 colorful icons (D604,305).
Samsung's point of contention is that the $399 million figure is equivalent to the entire profit it made from 11 phones found to have infringed on Apple's designs. The company feels that Apple shouldn't be entitled to Samsung's entire profit pool when only a portion of its phones infringed on Apple's patents.
"This Court’s review is also necessary to correct the Federal Circuit’s holding as a matter of law that an infringer of a design patent is liable for all of the profits it made from its entire product, no matter how little the design contributed to the product’s value or sales," Samsung stated in a court filing. "The significance of this holding is hard to overstate: if a patented design is only 1 percent responsible for the product’s sale, the patent’s owner still gets 100 percent of the profits. Under that rule, a jury that awards infringer’s profits must award the entire profits on a car (or even an eighteen-wheel tractor trailer) that contains an infringing cup-holder, and must award the entire profits on every pair of shoes that contains an infringing heel, sole or lace."
Samsung has the support of some major tech firms and vendors, among them eBay, Google, Facebook, HP, Newegg, and Pegasystems, which collectively filed a supporting amicus brief. So did the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
In the end, the Supreme Court's opinion will be the only one that matters. It will likely issue a ruling in the first quarter of next year. In the meantime, you can read Samsung's court petition here (PDF).