Samsung and Apple have not only been battling in the marketplace for customers, but also in court over various patents. The most recent battle was in front of the US Supreme Court, and despite a unanimous ruling will not be the last round of this fight. That’s because the Court reversed part of the lower court ruling and remanded the remaining part of the case back to the lower court.
SCOTUSblog reports, “The case involves an obscure statute not discussed by the Supreme Court in half a century, which grants protection for ‘design patents,’ a type of intellectual property that is related to, but much easier to acquire than, the ‘utility patents’ at issue in the Supreme Court’s most prominent intellectual-property cases of the last few decades.”
The specific “design elements” in questions are:
a rectangular product with four evenly rounded corners;
a flat, clear surface covering the front of the product;
a display screen under the clear surface;
substantial black borders above and below the display screen and narrower black borders on either side of the screen; and
when the device is on, a row of small dots on the display screen, a matrix of colorful square icons with evenly rounded corners within the display screen, and an unchanging bottom dock of colorful square icons with evenly rounded corners set off from the display’s other icons.
SCOTUSblog adds, “the opinion says almost nothing about the purposes or goals of the design-patent statute. Rather, it takes the position that the text of the statute compels rejection of the Federal Circuit’s end-product rule.”
In short, the Supreme Court “rejected the $400 million verdict Apple had won” following a 2012 jury trial, and “decline[d] to resolve whether the relevant article of manufacture for each design patent at issue here is the smartphone or a particular smartphone component.”
The Court heard arguments for another design patent case in October in which Varsity Brands, Inc alleges Star Athletica infringed on its copyright by using chevrons, zigzags and stripes along seams of cheerleading outfits. Star Athletica argues “The disputed designs have no meaning on their own, but identify an outfit as a cheerleader uniform… Without the decorations, a uniform ‘looks exactly like the ubiquitous little black dress.’”
While these two cases are arguing different aspects of copyright and patent law, the basis is the same: can one company claim ownership over a specific portion of an entire product? And if so, to what amount of damages are they entitled if someone borrows their design?