Google, Others Support Samsung in Apple Patent Dispute

In an amicus brief last week, Google said it wants the Supreme Court to review the design patent infringement case between Apple and Samsung.

Apple vs. Samsung

Google joined a slew of technology companies, legal professionals and intellectual property experts in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a design patent infringement case between Apple and Samsung that has already cost the latter some $548 million in damages.

In amicus briefs filed last week, Google, along with Facebook, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, eBay and several other tech companies, urged the nation's highest court to take up the case; they cited concerns over the way the damages against Samsung were assessed.

Joining Google and the others in expressing support for Samsung were as many as 37 law professors and six civil rights, public policy and trade groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). In all, a total of six amicus briefs were filed with the Supreme Court in support of Samsung last week. If the court decides to hear the case, that will mark the first time it has reviewed a dispute involving a design patent in 120 years, Samsung said in a statement announcing the new support it has just received.

The briefs show that Google, Facebook, eBay, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and the others agreed that the manner in which design patent laws are applied is "out of touch with economic realities," Samsung noted. It could slow innovation and prevent companies from spending on research and development, the company said.

In December 2015, Samsung paid Apple $548 million after an appeals court determined that the company needed to pay Apple that amount for violating its iPhone's design patents. The amount represented the total profits from Samsung's sales of smartphones and tablets based on the infringed Apple design patents. Though substantial, the $548 million in damages was significantly lower than the $1 billion that a jury had originally awarded to Apple in the case, back in 2012.

Samsung paid Apple the $548 million decided by the appeals court last month, but immediately thereafter filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to review the case. It wants the court to decide whether Apple is entitled to all of Samsung's profits from sales of the infringing devices because Samsung violated a patent that had to do only with the external design of the product and nothing else.

"If a single design patent is deemed infringed upon, the patent owner can be awarded all of a product's profits," Samsung said in its statement. But such an application of patent law is outdated because of the realities of modern technologies, the company said. "Today, design patents can be issued for a single icon or an animation. Smartphones can incorporate 250,000 or more design and utility patents." Requiring a company to forfeit all of the profits from a product for infringing upon a single design patent only encourages opportunistic lawsuits and cramps innovation, the company said.

In the amicus brief, Google and the other technology companies expressed concern over the broader industry implications of the Federal Circuit's decision in the case. "If allowed to stand, it will lead to absurd results and have a devastating impact on companies, including amici, that spend billions of dollars annually on research and development for complex technological products and their components," Google and the others noted.

People do not purchase modern, multicomponent devices like smartphones and tablets just for the design of one or more isolated components, the tech vendors said. The product design represents only a relatively minor portion of a modern product, and awarding a design patent owner the entire profits from an infringer's product is completely out of proportion, they noted.

"If allowed to stand, the Federal Circuit's decision would encourage the procurement and assertion of more low-quality, marginally innovative design patents, in the hopes that those patents will be infringed by the latest smartphone, laptop or other device," the brief said.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.