Apple and Samsung may have amicably ended all patent litigation abroad, but the battle between the two behemoths still rages on in America. The outcome of the companies’ most public spat hasn’t been decided yet — Samsung’s awaiting judgement from the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals on the multi-million dollar settlement it was ordered to pay Apple two years ago — but it just got a boost in the form of a supportive brief filed on behalf of Facebook, Google, eBay, Dell, HP, and a coalition of smaller tech firms.
A court in 2012 determined that Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones infringed on key Apple design and utility patents, most notably the iPhone’s rounded corners and on-screen icons, the elastic “bounce-back effect” in its settings menus, and tap to zoom finger gestures, but the undersigners of Tuesday’s brief argue that decision sets a dangerous precedent. “If allowed to stand, [it] will lead to absurd results and have a devastating impact on companies who spend billions of dollars annually on research and development for complex technologies and their components,” the brief states.
Google and others take issue with the court’s interpretation of “infringement,” arguing that smartphone and the operating systems which underlie them incorporate a vast number of hardware and software components that constitute only tiny parts of the user experience. If companies like Apple are allowed to target these individual pieces, the petitioners say, innovation would inevitably grind to a halt.
“The [infringing] feature[s] — a result of a few lines out of millions of code — may appear only during a particular use of the product, on one screen display among hundreds,” said the companies in the brief. “But the panel’s decision could allow the owner of the design patent to receive all profits generated by the product or platform, even if the infringing element was largely insignificant to the user.”
Samsung was ordered to pay damages of more than $1 billion in 2012 and the total profit of infringing devices. That total has since been reduced — first to $930 million and then in May by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to $548 million after the court found no evidence of trade dress — but Samsung’s seeking a review of the original decision.
Apple has requested the court ignore the support of other companies in the patent dispute.
Whatever the current case before the court’s outcome, it won’t be the last courtroom skirmish between Apple and Samsung. In March of last year, Apple launched a renewed intellectual property volley, alleging that Samsung smartphones and tablets sold in the US between 2010 and 2012 infringed on its patents for tap-from-search technology, autocorrection, “slide to unlock,” and voice assistance. It’s seeking a $2 billion judgement.