The Supreme Court has overturned Apple's $400 million award in its long-running patent lawsuit against Samsung. Apple won the case in 2012, convincing a federal court that a number of Samsung devices had infringed upon iPhone design patents — including one for a rectangular device with rounded corners and bezels, and another for a home screen comprised of a grid of colorful apps. The Supreme Court’s decision today does not reverse Apple’s win, but does mean that the case will be returned to the Federal Circuit so that the damages can be reassessed.
The Supreme Court’s judgement is complicated, but hinges on the method by which damages are calculated for cases involving the infringement of design patents. The $400 million won by Apple was based on a percentage of the entire profit Samsung made from its infringing smartphones. But, the South Korean company argued that this figure shouldn’t be based on the entire profit, but only part of the profit, as only part of the phone’s design was copied from Apple. The Supreme Court agreed that damages could be calculated this way — but it declined to say whether they should be in this particular case.
In a nine-page judgement published today, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that damages could be calculated based on the entire profit of an infringing product or based on only part of the product’s profit. But Apple and Samsung didn’t brief the court on which should apply in this particular dispute, so the Supreme Court is now sending the case back to the the federal circuit to decide which is the correct interpretation. If there’s one thing to be learned from the decisions, it’s that patent wars never end.