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Samsung Takes a Bite Out of Apple on Ap’peel’

May 18, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

Even though things are beginning to warm up between Samsung and Apple like pie ¡ la mode, there is still the court case to settle from the Great War days of 2012 when Samsung was ordered to pay an unheard of amount of $930 million.  This decision was based on the fact that Samsung had violated Apple’s design patents – both internally and externally.  The later being call “Trade Dress.”  Trade Dress is defined as “a legal term of art that generally refers to characteristics of the visual appearance of a product or its packaging (or even the design of a building) that signify the source of the product to consumers. Trade dress is a form of intellectual property.”

In this highly anticipated case, a Federal Circuit Court in Washington, D.C. upheld the patent infringement violations, including the Trade Dress damages, although the decision was split.  Apple had said in a statement, “This was a victory for design and those who respect it.”  This dispute started many years ago with Steve Jobs who fiercely defended Apple’s proprietary designs and technology.  Brian Love, an assistant law professor at the University of Santa Clara said, “They made this argument from the beginning of the case that they were sort of the true innovators in the smartphone world, and that although a lot of this technology existed in the past, they came up with very simple, elegant and easy-to-use design that took the smartphone to the next level.  To the extent that it was protected, it was protected by these design patents.”

Samsung has always fought on the basis that it should not be forced to pay penalties for making a “rectangular, round-cornered, flat-screened, touch-screened phone,” and call those “basic” features of any smartphone design. The Appeals court, even though they upheld the design infractions, asked that the San Jose court reconsider the $382 million portion awarded for Trade Dress dilution, saying, “the requirement that the unregistered trade dress ‘serves no purpose other than identification’ cannot be reasonably inferred from the evidence.”  Trade Dress protection under the law only applies to design elements that are nonfunctional, but the design in question by Apple were done for customer convenience and their arguments for Trade Dress do not apply in this case. If agreed upon by the lower court, this award could knock off 40-percent of the original amount…quite a nice slice out of the Apple pie.