A partial court win Monday for Apple Inc. gives the U.S. tech company more leverage for an ultimate agreement it may seek with Samsung Electronics Inc. to end a fight over mobile phones that began under Steve Jobs, who said the South Korean company copied his designs.
Samsung used patented designs and two features of the Apple iPhone in older models of its devices, a U.S. appeals court ruled in upholding about $548 million in damages for the Cupertino, California-based company. The court said the iPhone’s appearance that Apple sought to protect is as much about function as beauty, and isn’t eligible for perpetual coverage under U.S. trademark law. That could strip about $382 million from the original judgment.
The decision gives Apple an advantage in any negotiations with Samsung. The two smartphone makers have ended their global patent battles except for the issue decided Monday and a second case, also before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
“It appears that the end is near in this case, as the bulk of the damages awarded were on the design patents, which have now been upheld,” said Michael Risch, a law professor at Villanova University School of Law in Villanova, Pennsylvania. “If the parties want to call a cease fire, as they have in other jurisdictions, the table is set.”
While the breakdown of damages is based on an interpretation of the jury award, the jury never listed each amount in its verdict form. That means the judge will have to hold a hearing to determine how much Samsung must pay, Risch said.
A case involving Apple’s contention that it should be allowed to force Samsung to remove certain patented features from Galaxy phones is still pending.
For Apple, the dispute is more about reputation than money -- the $548 million equals about two days’ worth of iPhone sales.
“We are pleased the Federal Circuit Court of Appeal confirmed Samsung blatantly copied Apple products,” Josh Rosenstock, an Apple spokesman, said in a statement. “Even though Samsung must pay for its widespread infringement of our patents, this case has always been about more than money. It’s about innovation and the hard work that goes into inventing products that people love, which is hard to put a price on.”
The pending case about removing features from Samsung’s Galaxy phone and tablet computers focuses on Apple’s argument that companies should be able to control features that make their products unique.
Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, fueling a smartphone market that before then had received limited interest from consumers. Four years later, it filed its first suit against Samsung, accusing the Korean handset manufacturer of “slavishly” copying the iPhone.
Samsung, which has made mobile phones for decades, argued that many of the elements Apple claimed were unique were instead the natural evolution to make the phones user-friendly.
“With the passage of time, this litigation seems less and less relevant, so the decision could push the parties toward settlement, tilting in Apple’s direction,” said Michael Carrier, a law professor at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey.
Jobs, the co-founder of Apple with a talent for product design and pitch-perfect marketing, died in late 2011 at age 56.
Apple said Samsung copied the patented design elements for the front face of the phone, the bezel and the graphical user interface. Samsung also used Apple inventions for gesturing and a way to double tap on a document to enlarge and center it, the three-judge panel ruled.
Adam Yates, a spokesman for Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The case is Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 14-1335, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington). The lower court case is Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 11cv1846, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose).