Few debates easily rile a group up as the question of “Apple or Samsung?”. A calm dinner could turn into a spitfest breaking down aesthetics, software, camera abilities, right down to the font used to debate why one phone triumphs the other.
The debate has materialised during the hearing of Apple v Samsung in the U.S. Supreme Court. It is the battle of the titans, and perhaps the biggest design patent case to shake the realm of modern technology. Here is all you need to know about the first design patent suit the Supreme Court will be examining since the 1880s.
How it began
In 2012, Apple sued Samsung for infringing on Apple’s design patents, namely a black rectangular round cornered front face, a similar bezel and a colourful 16-icon grid on the interface. The products accused were the Nexus S 4G, Galaxy Prevail, Galaxy SII AT&T, Galaxy Tab and more. During the original hearing, Apple won the case and was awarded US$1.05 billion in damages, while Samsung’s request for US$421 million was denied. The judge eventually ordered a revision of the judgement, and Samsung eventually paid US$548 million in 2015. The amount was calculated based on the revenue that Samsung generated for their infringing devices, totalling US$3.5 billion.
The second case
If it’s all been neatly (albeit expensively) resolved, why the need for another massive hearing? Samsung requested for the court’s guidance on what is covered by design patents and the damages that can be collected. The Korean-based tech company claims legalities are “grossly overrewarding design patents” that may hurt competition and the brand’s innovation, atop inviting more “absurd” lawsuits. Samsung posits that Apple should be paid damages only from the infringing aspects of the accused technology (i.e. the interface) and not from the entire phone.
Apple has demanded for the Supreme Court to uphold the prior resolution, claiming that it is the design that sells and allows for Apple’s artefacts to be recognised.
Both companies have rallied for amicus with one or the other brand. Tech companies like Dell, Facebook and Google, intellectual property professors from Stanford and Georgetown, as well as non-profit organisations such as Public Knowledge are siding with Samsung. As for Apple, their supporters stem from the design industry, with professionals like Calvin Klein and Alexander Wang calling to arms on the label’s behalf.
The probable verdicts
Whether either wins, the Apple v Samsung rivalry can hardly be put to rest due to a handful of other patent suits between the two still in progress. Aside from the hefty remittances, the outcome may severely impact either company’s brand equity, a verdict that could be crippling for Samsung due to the massive issues with the Note 7 currently ongoing. Companies working on new technology will also have to be wary and play close attention to potential infringements, which could (as Samsung claims) hamper innovation.
After the hearing on 12 October, a ruling will be announced in the first quarter of 2017.
Read the full transcript of the hearing here.