Apple and Samsung's patent infringement battle isn't over, and in the latest ruling, neither side has gotten exactly what it wanted. In a filing posted today, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reaffirmed that Samsung had copied specific design patents in Apple's iPhone. But the court decided that Samsung wasn't infringing on Apple's overall trade dress — the look and feel of its phones. This means that while the damages Apple was granted for patent infringement will stand, the company's overall $930 million award will be downsized.
The court's analysis hinged on the idea that trade dress had to be based on aesthetic decisions meant to make something visually distinctive, and that rules protecting it have to be balanced with "a fundamental right to compete through imitation of a competitor’s product." While Apple argued that the iPhone's rounded rectangle shape and rows of square apps were designed to give it a particular look that fit Apple's brand, the court cited Apple's previous claims that the shape was also easier to use. The same went for its app icons, which were attractive but also meant to make the iPhone more intuitive.
The current legal fight between Samsung and Apple has been going on since 2011, when Apple alleged that several Samsung phones infringed on design and utility patents for its iPhone. In 2012, a court found that Samsung had indeed infringed on Apple's patents for "bounce-back" scrolling, multitouch gestures, and tap-to-zoom options on iOS. It also found that Samsung's phones had infringed on both officially registered and unregistered iPhone trade dress. Apple had requested $2.5 billion in damages, and it ended up getting slightly over $1 billion.
Since then, Samsung and Apple have both been trying to tilt the ruling and the damages in their favor. Apple tried and failed to get a sales ban on the infringing phones and tablets (all of which have now been obsolete for several years), and it requested an additional $707 million from Samsung. It got neither of these; in fact, its original damages were recalculated and slightly cut back. Now that the earlier decision has been struck down, lower courts will have to calculate a new damages number. Samsung, however, has also had its share of disappointment. It lost a second patent battle to Apple in 2014, for the smaller amount of around $120 million. And this latest ruling reaffirms that it infringed on Apple's patents, so it's still going to be paying out in this case — just not as much as originally expected.
Apple, for its part, is optimistic about the decision. "We are pleased the Federal Circuit Court of Appeal confirmed Samsung blatantly copied Apple products," said a spokesperson on the news. "This is a victory for design and those who respect it. 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."
And, of course, so is Samsung. "We welcome the US Court of Appeals' ruling overturning Apple's infringement and damage claims against Samsung over trade dress," its spokesperson said. "Today's decision shows that Apple's claims over trade dress and damages lack merit and are grossly exaggerated. We remain confident that our products do not infringe on Apple’s design patents and other intellectual property, and we will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our products."
Update May 18th, 6:45PM ET: Added comment from Apple.
Update May 19th, 8:45AM ET: Added comment from Samsung.