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Communications of the ACM

Legally speaking

Supreme Court on Design Patent Damages in Samsung v. Apple


Supreme Court on Design Patent Damages in Samsung v. Apple, illustration

Should Samsung have to pay Apple $399 million—its total profits on sales of certain smartphones—for infringement of three Apple design patents when the value of the Samsung phones may be attributable to many other desirable features and not just to the designs infringed? An anomalous rule in U.S. design patent law seems to suggest the answer is yes, when it should be no.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments to determine the answer to this question last October: the Court decided the case in early December 2016, when it threw out the nearly $400 million in damages Samsung had been ordered to pay Apple by a ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) affirming an award of all of Samsung's profits from selling the infringing phones. The exact amount of damages, to be determined by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit or a trial court on remand, will likely be much less than the hundreds of millions of dollars Samsung might have paid.


 

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