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US Supreme Court leaves gap in Samsung-Apple patent ruling

John Ribeiro | Dec. 8, 2016
The court did not provide guidance on a test for “article of manufacture” for determining damages

Samsung had questioned before the top court a decision that required it to pay damages of US$399 million for infringement of three design patents, which protect the way an article looks, while utility patents address the way an article is used and works. The company claimed that the infringed patents, relating to the face and rounded bezel design of the iPhone, and the icon layout on the home screen, are only minor features of the product.

But Apple had in its favor an old statute that makes an infringer liable to a patent holder to the extent of his total profit, but not less than $250, if he unlawfully makes, sells or exposes for sale any "article of manufacture" after applying the patented design or any colorable imitation thereof without license of the owner.

The Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for the company "and for all those who promote creativity, innovation and fair competition in the marketplace," Samsung said in a statement Tuesday. A number of tech companies, trade groups and legal experts have supported Samsung on this issue, as they hold that an adverse outcome could have implications on innovation.

“The lower court’s interpretation of design patents, which allowed someone to sue based on an ornamental feature and reap the entire profits of someone else’s product, would have had a chilling effect on investment and the development of products - especially in the tech sector,” said Ed Black, president and CEO of technology industry group Computer & Communications Industry Association, in a statement.


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