On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up Samsung’s request for review of the decision of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold lower district court findings that held Samsung liable for infringing Apple iPhone patents in the design of Samsung Galaxy smart phone products. The patent legal battle between Apple and Samsung—which was initially ordered to pay Apple more than $1 billion in damages but has since had that figure reduced to $548 million—goes back five years, and the case at hand represents the first design patent case to be considered by the Supreme Court in a century. Samsung agreed last December to pay Apple the reduced damage award with the right to seek reimbursement if the Supreme Court rules in Samsung’s favor. The petition before the high court seeks to nullify at least $399 million of that amount.
The central question to be considered by the justices is whether Samsung should relinquish all of its profits on infringing devices or only the money it makes on specific device parts or components that are deemed to violate Apple patents. In documents filed with the court, Samsung maintained that the lower courts erred in awarding damages based on Samsung’s total profits on the infringing devices as “the patented features contributed 1% to the value of Samsung’s phones.” Supporters of Samsung in the tech industry further warned the justices that the damage award, if allowed to stand, will “lead to absurd results” with a “devastating impact” on manufacturers of complex technological products. Samsung, however, failed to persuade the court to take up a second patent issue concerning the combination of ornamental and functional features in smart phones, such as rounded edges that allow for easy storage and retrieval from a coat pocket and flat screens that facilitate ease of reading.