Supreme Court hears first design patent case in more than a century

October 11, 2016
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The Supreme Court heard its first design patent case in more than a century today as Samsung and Apple argued over damages previous awarded to Apple.

The Supreme Court heard its first design patent case in more than a century today as Samsung and Apple argued over damages previously awarded to Apple.

In 1894, the Supreme Court heard two parties argue over a patent for a new rug design.  In Dunlap v Schofield (1894), $250 was at stake.  The Court has not heard another design patent case until today.  In Samsung Electronics C. v Apple, the dispute involves $399 million. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a patent is a grant for the right to exclude others from “making, using, offering for sale or selling” the specified invention for a period of 20 years. There are three types of patents: utility, plant, and design.  Design patents involve a “new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.” A jury initially awarded Apple $1.05 billion for all profits Samsung earned using designs taken from the iPhone.  Jaeeun Shin and Dara Brown summarize the case in Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute. As they report, the Court of Appeals subsequently agreed that Apple patents were infringed, however they reduced the award to $399 million.  Samsung appealed the case to the Supreme Court and oral arguments were heard this morning.  Samsung argued that the courts calculated the award improperly.  Rather than adding all profits Samsung earned from all of these cellphones, they believe that the damages should only reflect the infringed design elements.  In other words, the iPhone and Samsung devices have many differences, both inside and out.  Even if Samsung copied the look of the iPhone’s screen and curved corners, Samsung argued that all smartphone profits are not an accurate method to calculate damages.  The case before the Court is not whether or not Samsung copied Apple’s ideas, but simply how financial damages are best calculated.  Although at the time of this post, the Court has not yet released audio or transcripts, several court reporters suggest that the justices may be somewhat receptive to Samsung.  A verdict is expected before June.

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