U.S. Supreme Court justices appear to be confused over how much Apple’s patented iPhone design should worth.
Lawyers for Apple and Samsung faced off this morning at the nation’s highest court. The two sides argued whether breaking a design patent should be worth most of a product’s profits, or if the thousands of other patents that go into a smartphone should be viewed as equally valuable to the contribution of profits.
Billions of dollars and the future of patent law is at stake in the case that hinges on a law written in 1887. But the justices didn’t give much indication which side they’ll take.
The iPhone and the Beetle
“If I were a juror, I wouldn’t know what to do,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said
Justice Kennedy brought up the iconic design of the Volkswagon Beetle as a comparison, saying it seems unfair not to give more profit to someone whose infringed design is so important to the overall product. Justice Alito countered that the car is made up of thousands of other important parts. The judge noted that no one would have bought it if it had horrible gas mileage and a high price tag.
“The thing that makes the product distinctive might not cost very much,” said Justice Kagan.
Apple’s never-ending legal war
Samsung and Apple have been fighting their long-lasting legal battle in different courts across the globe for nearly five years. Apple accused Samsung of stealing the design of the iPhone as well as some of its software features.
Last year a court ordered Samsung to pay Apple $399 million for intentionally infringing on the iPhone-makers patents. Samsung is hoping the U.S. Supreme court will rule in its favor and reduce the amount it owes. The South Korea based company says it makes “no sense” to give a patent holder the entire profits from a device that infringes narrow design patents.
“Awarding all of the profits for a single patent devalues the contributions of the hundreds of thousands of other patents in a smartphone,” a Samsung spokesperson said. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will give a sensible and fair reading to the design patent statute. That would be a win for businesses and consumers alike.”
Some of the top tech companies in Silicon Valley have come to Samsung’s defense in the patent battle. Facebook, Google, HP, Dell and Ebay urged the Supreme court to take up the case claiming the nearly 130 year old design law is outdated and stifles innovation.
Apple’s lawyers argued that letting Samsung off easy is what actually ruins innovation because the company that comes up with new ideas doesn’t get rewarded.
“We firmly believe that strong design patent protection spurs creativity and innovation,” said Noreen Krall, Apple’s chief litigation officer. “And that’s why we’ve defended ourselves against those who steal our ideas. Eleven times now, Samsung has been found guilty of intentionally and blatantly copying the iPhone. Every court at every level has agreed. We think that’s wrong and that it poses chilling risks to the future of design innovation.”
The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling by June of next year.