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Samsung’s arguments against Apple find some support at the Supreme Court

Samsung and Apple’s Supreme Court showdown started yesterday, the apex court of the United States is hearing its first design patent case in more than a century so its ruling will definitely be considered as landmark. This is the biggest patent dispute between these companies in which Samsung was initially hit with $1 billion in damages. The company has challenged the way damages are calculated and argues that Apple should not be entitled to all of the profits from an infringing device. Both sides made hour-long oral arguments in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Reports reveal that during the arguments various examples from wallpaper to the Volkswagen Beetle came up and most justices seemed to back Samsung’s argument that the lower court allowed a more expansive interpretation of the patent law which resulted in expensive damages for the company. Justice Samuel Alito reportedly remarked at one stage that “Nobody buys a car, even a Beetle, just because they like the way it looks,” while Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out that Apple’s iPhone design only applies to the exterior of the device and not “all the chips and wires.”

Several justices also remarked that juries might find it hard or even impossible to determine damages when only one part of the product’s design is infringing on a patent. Some hold on to the view that a distinctive design can account for a large percentage of the profit which suggests that Samsung is not likely going to sail to a victory here if the Supreme Court decided to send the matter back to a lower court for resolution.

It was ruled by a jury in 2012 that Samsung infringed on three iPhone design patents held by Apple which cover smartphones with a rectangular shape, curved corners and 16 colorful circles on a black screen. Samsung’s lawyer made an argument that “A smartphone is smart because it contains hundreds of thousands of the technologies that make it work, which then led to a debate on products that are reliant for their sales and profit on design only. It was reasoned that a car’s cup holder wouldn’t apply to the car’s overall value but if a wallpaper is copied, “you get the whole thing,” remarked Justice Stephen Breyer.

Apple’s side argued that the design patent secures “the thing to which the design is applied” which is an entire smartphone, in this case, adding that “design is not a component.” Justice Elena Kagan seemed to support the argument, pointing to the Volkswagen Beetle’s design as an example of “the thing that makes the product distinctive,” even though she acknowledged that “the car has to run, and it has to do all the other things that cars do.”

Samsung and Apple have now had their first day at the apex court, there will be more. Arguments will continue for a considerable period of time as a ruling is not expected before the end of the court’s term in June next year.

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