US Supreme Court kills $535m patent award against Samsung in Apple case

A lower court incorrectly awarded damages based on the whole smartphone, not the patented pieces, justices say

The U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated a US$399 million infringement award against Samsung Electronics in a long-running design patent dispute with Apple.

The court, in an 8-0 decision, kicked back the patent award to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, saying the lower court calculated the patent award based on the whole iPhone, while the design patents may cover only pieces of the device.

The Federal Circuit's failure to consider a smaller damage award based on pieces of the iPhone "cannot be squared" with patent law, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the Supreme Court. The lower court, in its ruling, said it could not separate out the infringing pieces of the smartphones because they were not available for sale to the public, she noted.

But "the term 'article of manufacture' [in patent law] is broad enough to embrace both a product sold to a consumer and a component of that product, whether sold separately or not," Sotomayor wrote.

The damage award relates to three design patents covering the face and rounded bezel design of the iPhone and the grid of sixteen icons on the phone's home screen.

Samsung, with support from Google, Facebook, and other tech companies, had asked the Supreme Court to take a new look at design patents, even though the rules have remained largely unchanged for more than a century.

Representatives of Apple and Samsung were not immediately available for comment.

The two companies' patent disputes will continue. Separately, the same appeals court reinstated a $119.6 million award for Apple back in October. The appeals court ruled that two Apple smartphone design patents, one related to a slide-to-unlock feature, are valid and Samsung infringed a third patent related to helping smartphone users find phone numbers.

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