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Samsung asks Supreme Court to toss Apple iPhone victory

Susan Decker

Samsung Electronics Co. is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a $399 million patent award it was ordered to pay Apple Inc. for copied iPhone designs, in what would be the court’s first case involving design patents in 120 years.

In a petition filed Monday, Samsung asked the court to consider the scope of design patents and how damages are calculated in such cases. It’s challenging an appeals court ruling that Samsung had infringed the design patents and that the law entitles Apple to a cut of Samsung’s total profits from smartphones that used patented designs.

Design patents cover the ornamental look of an object rather than any functional aspect. If the high court takes up the case, it will be the first time it’s looked at the law regarding design patents since disputes involving spoon handles in the 1870s and carpets in the 1890s.

“A patented design might be the essential feature of a spoon or rug,” Samsung wrote in its petition. “But the same is not true of smartphones, which contain countless other features that give them remarkable functionality wholly unrelated to their design.”

Over the past decade, the Supreme Court has limited the ability to block use of patented inventions and made it easier to invalidate patents. Appeals court rulings have limited the amount patent owners can collect in damages when patented technology is used in a multi-component product. That doesn’t apply when it comes to designs.

“Even if the patented features contributed 1% of the value of Samsung’s phones, Apple gets 100% of Samsung’s profits,” Samsung wrote.

Samsung also is challenging the infringement analysis, saying the jury was improperly allowed to consider even unprotected aspects of the iPhone in determining if the specific patented features were infringed.

Apple’s patented designs are little more than rounded edges and the layout of the icons, Samsung said in the petition. Apple has argued that the look of the iPhone is a key factor in its success and the patented designs were more unique than Samsung would have the courts believe.

The $399 million forms the bulk of a $548 million judgment lodged against the Korean handset maker. Samsung is scheduled pay $548 million to Apple Monday, though it reserves the right to seek reimbursement.

‘Slavishly copied’

Apple has asked the trial judge to order its chief rival to pay even more for what it says is continued infringement of both the patented designs and its “pinch-to-zoom” technology. Part of the original verdict also is subject to a retrial on damages, which would further the amount Samsung would have to pay.

While smartphones by Samsung and others existed before Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, the device helped turned a nascent market into a cultural revolution. Apple contends that Samsung “slavishly” copied the iPhone after deciding that was the only way to remain competitive and filed the first suit in April 2011.

While declining to provide a comment on the specifics of Samsung’s petition, Apple repeated the comments it made following the 2012 verdict, during which jurors learned of an internal Samsung document where an executive referred to the “unexpected competitor” in the iPhone and its own “crisis of design.”

“We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on Earth,” Rachel Wolf Tulley, a company spokeswoman said. “We make these products to delight our customers, not for our competitors to flagrantly copy.”

Samsung, which said it’s the largest patent-owner in the U.S., denies copying any Apple products and said many of the features Apple claims to have invented were just the natural evolution of the devices.

Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. backed Samsung’s position before the appeals court. They argued that the decision gave too much value to designs that covered only minor features of complex electronics and would “lead to absurd results” in other cases.

The court is expected to decide early next year whether to take up the case. If the justices were to take it, arguments would be heard in the nine-month term that begins in October.