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DOJ: Apple v. Samsung Should Go Back to Lower Court

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on June 15, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The IP battle between tech companies Apple and Samsung got a little weirder recently with the involvement of the Department of Justice, which filed an amicus urging the Supreme Court to send the case back down to the deciding federal trial court in order to determine the appropriate damages.

The Supreme Court is not beholden to the DOJ by any means. But if the advice is heeded, it could mean years more of legal wrangling in the courts. But interestingly, this IP battle might enrich other parties besides the lawyers.

How Long Has It Been?

Samsung and Apple have been trading blows in the courts for approximately five years now. It all began in 2011-2012 when Apple accused Samsung that its Galaxy series of smartphones infringed on a long list of intellectual property rights owned by the maker of the iPhone. In 2012, Apple won big ($1B in damages) when a jury found that Samsung lifted much of Apple's IP -- including "rounded corners."

Trimmed Down to Size

Later, that number got chopped in half on appeal. The appeals courts continued to maintain that Samsung had infringed on 3 key components of Apple's design patents, including the rounded corners mentioned above. Because of the universal ubiquity of both Galaxy smartphones and iPhones, most users are familiar with the sixteen app layout, soft corners, and a black face. These elements practically define the smartphone today. And that instant recognition is worth a lot of money.

Appealing to a Higher Power

Samsung has been the consistent loser in the multi-lawsuited saga against Apple. It finally tried appealing for cert from the US Supreme Court and was granted a hearing in March. Apparently, the issues are pressing because we're not aware of any recent time when the high court decided to hear a patent design case.

Let's All Just Calm Down

The case has the potential to mean something big -- and the Justice Department knows it. In its brief, the agency professed support for neither party but did proclaim a "substantial interest" in the outcome -- particularly with regards to setting a tone for future damages in similar cases.

Mercifully, the brief suggests a deep concern by the agency over "patent trolling," a particularly reprehensible group of intellectual property characters. Specifically, the DOJ submits that Samsung failed to provide enough evidence that damages ought to be awarded for only some "articles of manufacture."

The aim is to get a better (narrower) reading of the aforementioned term such as to rein in explosive damages awards.

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