Apple vs. Samsung: Partial Win, Partial Loss

Apple vs. SamsungApple has won another round against its rival Samsung in a global patent feud, but its latest courtroom triumph again includes some loses for the iPhone maker.

On Monday, May 18th 2015, a federal appeals court left Apple with nearly $1 billion patent judgment against Samsung, but overturned one key finding from the first trial in their smartphone wars that could slash nearly $400 million from the jury verdict and reshape the ongoing legal feud between the two tech titans.

The court ruled that Samsung's $930 million penalty, must be adjusted. Another score for Samsung after its small victory in 2013.

The U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury's conclusion that Samsung's smartphones and tablets violated Apple's patent rights on the iPhone as the centerpiece of the case, but the Washington, D.C.-based court reversed the jury's finding that Samsung devices violated Apple's trademark rights, laws designed to protect the basic look and feel of products.

However, the court's decision is still giving Apple the chance to retrial the issue. This means that Apple may have the chance to recover much of that figure.

In the initial trial, Apple had asserted a total of four trade dress, or product design, claims against Samsung. Three of them dealt with the iPhone, and one covered the iPad and iPad 2. Apple's trade dress for the iPhone was presented during the trial as:

  • 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 or white borders above and below the display with narrower neutral-colored screen borders.
  • A matrix display for colorful square icons with evenly rounded corners.
  • A dock at the bottom of the display.

Related: Apple vs. Samsung: When Coolness and Simplicity Matter

It was affirmed that a jury's verdict found Samsung violated Apple's design and utility patents. But the appeals court also ruled that Samsung did not infringe on Apple's trade dress intellectual property, and overturned the jury's findings on that issue.

"We therefore vacate the jury's damages awards against the Samsung products that were found liable for trade dress dilution and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion," the ruling states.

Samsung appealed a San Jose jury's on August 2012 verdict that the South Korean tech company violated Apple's patent or trademark rights in 23 products. The case, known as "Apple I," was the first of two trials between the feuding tech titans. In 2014, another federal jury found that Samsung copied iPhone technology in more recent products, but awarded $120 million in damages, just a fraction of what Apple demanded. That case also has been appealed to the Federal Circuit.

Monday's appeals court decision concluded that the simple technology at issue, such as the basic shape of an iPhone, does not fall under so-called trade dress protections that prompt consumers to consider certain products unique. The jury's findings that were overturned could account for about $370 million of the damage award, an amount that may be carved from the overall judgment.

Samsung was first found guilty of infringement in 2012. Samsung was ordered to pay Apple $1.05 billion. Presiding Judge Lucy Koh then struck some $450 million off of that award and set a retrial to reassess the damages.

At the end of that process, Samsung ended up with a $930 million fine for patent infringement, which the South Korean company once again appealed.

The appeals court's full decision handed down Monday is included below:

The court's overall outcome was considered to be a mixed bag for the two companies. But legal experts generally agreed that Apple had given a better result, especially because because the decision upheld its chief patent claims and its method of determining what Samsung should pay.

Other experts, however, said that both Apple and Samsung with their massive share of the mobile market, don't have that much to show for five years of legal battles.

The products involved in this case are now old, and can be considered as "relics" in terms of the tech markets. With the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S5 on the market, legal experts said that the ruling could resolve many of the same issues tied up in the ongoing future.

Samsung has insisted all along that Apple's claims have been a heavy-handed public relations campaign to stifle competition.

In seeking to overturn the jury verdict, Samsung focused on key issues, notably the fact that most of the patent violations centered on iPhone and iPad designs, not operating technologies.

Samsung's legal team has argued that Apple's damages award was excessive, but the company failed to prove that it's products had any meaningful bearing on iPhone or iPad sales. Despite Samsung is appealing by a slight margin, the Federal Circuit generally sided with Apple on the patent claims.

Further reading: Samsung Mimicking Apple: Comparing Oranges to Apples