August 4, 2016 Last Updated 12:02 pm

Design professionals file amicus brief supporting Apple in Supreme Court case v. Samsung

Case will be heard in October and comes as Samsung tries to win on appeal a ruling that had the Korean consumer electronics firm paying Apple over half a billion dollars in damages

Apple thought they had won a big court case against Samsung when it was awarded $930 million in patent damages in a long patent case involving the design of the iPhone, and the rather obvious knock-offs produced by the Korean consumer electronics giant. But while Samsung agreed to pay Apple $548 million late last year, it also said it would want some of it back should they win on appeal.

samsung-galaxy-s6-iPhoneWhat probably came as a shock to Apple was the decision by the Supreme Court to hear the appeal.

At the heart of the case is the value of design patents. As Florien Mueller wrote on his FOSS Patents website, these design patents can be for pretty minor design elements.

“Even the USPTO now regrets having originally issued Apple’s D’677 patent, which covers little more than a round button. Microsoft’s tiny-arrow-in-a-corner patent is no better. And that slider design patent is probably not far below the quality of the average design patent,” Mueller said.

The Supreme Court will hear the case in October, but in the meantime both sides are lining up support.

Today, Apple released a PDF of the amicus brief submitted to the court by a group of designers, each acting in their individual capacities, not on behalf of the companies or institutions they may work for.

“Samsung further reserves all rights to reclaim or obtain reimbursement of any judgment amounts paid by Samsung to any entity in the event the partial judgment is reversed, modified, vacated or set aside on appeal or otherwise, including as a result of any proceedings before the [United States Patent and Trademark Office] addressing the patents at issue or as a result of any petition for writ of certiorari filed with the Supreme Court,” the company said in a statement last year.

“We all share a strong professional interest in seeing that design patent law continues to protect investments in product design,” the group said in the brief which attempts to support the concept to design patents.

“By stealing designs, therefore, manufacturers steal not only the visual design of the product, but also the underlying attributes attached to the design of the product and embodied in the mind of the consumer by the product’s visual appearance. When a manufacturer copies the design of a successful product, it captures the consumer’s understanding of what the product does and what the product means.”

“Moreover, copying of a design also allows the copier to enter the marketplace on the back of the brand attributes built by the patent holder — who has expended vast sums and effort in design, development, quality standards, marketing, sales and product promotion.”


But, one should remember, Samsung received a hearing for their appeal with the help of a brief filed by brief from Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. So, there are certainly voices being heard on both sides.

“We welcome the Court’s decision to hear our case. We thank the many large technology companies, 37 intellectual property professors, and several groups representing small business, which have supported our position,” Samsung said when it won its hearing.

The Department of Justice is staying neutral in this case, but appears to be leery of Apple winning its case, seeing in the case national interests in conflict. Certainly one could imagine competing courts duking it out, each awarding their own corporations huge judgements.

In June, the DOJ recommended that the case go back to the lower courts for more litigation. This is a position supported by Samsung.

Apple, in response, filed a brief last Friday that basically said “let’s get on with it and rule on this case.”

As for consumers, few doubt that Samsung has stolen Apple designs. But the issue here is the value of design patents, whether those patents should have been awarded in the first place, and how much damages should be awarded in circumstance when a company “borrows” a look in its products.

Every time I am out driving and see a Kia Amanti, from another Korean manufacturer, I think I am seeing a Jaguar S-Type, and think ‘how did they get away with that one!’

It is ironic that Samsung, in bragging about getting its hearing in front of the Supreme Court, said that the “Court’s review of this case can lead to a fair interpretation of patent law that will support creativity and reward innovation.” If so, it might well lose.

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