Samsung has just gotten some mighty allies in its proxy legal tussle with Apple. Before 2015 ended, the Korean manufacturer went to the US Supreme Court asking for a review not of its patent case with Apple, which it already lost, but of the design patent system in general. Now several organizations, from tech giants to non-profit advocacies to legal interest groups, have filed amicus briefs in support of Samsung’s case to have the federal government’s interpretation of design patent laws revised for the current century.
Samsung’s case is based on the view that while the patent system does stil have some value, many of its parts are antiquated, coming from a time when modern ideas and products were never even dreamed of. In particular, design patents have been problematic for Samsung, and many of its new friends fear that, if left unchanged, it could very well stunt the very innovation that the patent system was made to protect and nurture.
The focus is on two parts of the design patent system in particular. The first is in redefining the scope of a design patent. When patents were conceived, it was necessary to protect even something like the design of the handle of a utensil or the pattern in clothing. Today, however, that has been stretched to also cover the design of an icon, an animation, or a user interface control.
The second point is probably closer to Samsung’s heart: how design patent damages are calculated. In the current system, a single design patent infringement entitles the patent holder to be awarded all of the profits from the infringing product. So imagine infringing on a single icon in a sea of hundreds inside a tablet and having to pay for all the profits you made from that tablet. That is exactly how Samsung got slapped with $548 million, an amount that was already considerably reduced from a near billion figure. Although Samsung has agreed to pay those damages, it is still reserving the right to get it refunded if the court take its side this time around.
So far the Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to hear Samsung’s case or not, which is why the likes of Google, Facebook, Dell, HP, the EFF, and more are urging the country’s highest court to do so, saying that the interpretation of design patents by the Federal Circuit is “out of touch with economic realities” and could “hinder innovation”. If the Supreme Court does decide to hear the case, it will be the first time it would do so in more than a century.
Amusingly, Samsung couldn’t resist letting slip a side remark against Apple. It says that while it is gathering more friends in support of the cause, to date, Apple stands alone.