In 2011, Apple filed a patent design lawsuit against Samsung. In 2017, we may finally see an end to the long-running feud between the two largest smartphone makers in the world.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Apple vs. Samsung case on Tuesday. Both sides will make arguments and the U.S. Department of Justice will also make a few comments. We expect the Supreme Court’s ruling to come toward the end of the year in December, or January.
It all began six years ago in 2010, when the iPhone-maker warned Samsung that the Korean giant’s tablets and smartphones infringed on Apple patents. The company did not sue immediately because Samsung was a “trusted partner” — Apple spent billions of dollars on Samsung screens, processors, and other components.
Apple had already gone after another tech giant, HTC, in the same year. The two settled with a cross-licensing patent deal in 2012.
Related: Why are Apple and Samsung throwing down? A timeline of the biggest fight in tech
In October 2010, executives from Samsung and Apple meet and the latter suggests Samsung pay $30 per phone and $40 per tablet for infringing on design patents with the iPhone and iPad. Earlier in the year, HTC agreed to pay Microsoft $5 for every Android device ever sold. Apple’s suggestion was too high for Samsung and the company declined.
Apple sued Samsung the following year for “slavishly” copying the iPhone’s design. Samsung countersued for 3G patents, and filed claims in Germany, Japan, and South Korea.
The next six years involved Apple getting judges to ban Samsung devices in various countries: an iPhone and iPad sales ban in Germany that lasted a few hours, failed settlement talks, and even forcing Samsung and Google to scale back the universal search bar on the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S3. In the U.K., Apple also had to post a public apology that said Samsung did not copy its designs.
In 2012, however, the verdict was decided. The jury sided with Apple, awarding the U.S company $1 billion in damages. That did not stop the iPhone-maker, as it quickly followed up with another lawsuit that targeted newer Samsung devices. In 2013, the judge that presided over the first case found that the damages Samsung had to pay were calculated incorrectly. Around $450 million of the $1 billion was invalidated and a retrial kicked off later in the year.
In another blow to Samsung, the retrial earned Apple an additional $290 million in damages, bringing the total Samsung has to pay to $929 million, a little short from the original $1 billion victory. Samsung immediately appealed the decision. In December 2015, Samsung agreed to pay $548 million to Apple.
That amount was based off total profits made by Samsung — and this is where the Supreme Court comes in.
Design patents, as the name suggests, protect the unique look of a product. In the 2012 case, the jury ruled that Samsung copied the iPhone’s black rectangle shape and rounded corners, the bezel, and a patent that covered the graphical layout of icons on the iPhone.
Samsung, and many of its supporters, believe the reward for infringing a design patent should not offer the “total profits.” Rather, Samsung should only pay a reasonable amount in relation to the aspects of the design it copied. Apple counters that the whole design sells the phone and the Supreme Court should uphold the lower courts’ ruling.
“Whoever during the term of a patent for a design, without license of the owner, applies the patented design, or any colorable imitation thereof, to any article of manufacture for the purpose of sale, or sells or exposes for sale any article of manufacture to which such design or colorable imitation has been applied shall be liable to the owner to the extent of his total profit, but not less than $250, recoverable in any United States district court having jurisdiction of the parties,” the law states.
In recent court filings, Apple has said while “total profit” should mean that Samsung has to pay the total profit of a sale, “article of manufacturer” could mean specific features and not the whole product. The company says Samsung did not make that argument in court, though.
The Supreme Court has not ruled on a design patent case for more than a 100 years, so it is hard to see how this will play out.
More than a hundred designers and educators support Apple. They are industry professionals and have provided product design services to companies such as Apple, AT&T, Calvin Klein, Coca-Cola, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Google, IBM, the New York Stock Exchange, NASA, Samsung, and more.
Related: Designers including Calvin Klein file amicus brief supporting Apple in patent case with Samsung
Some other notable names include Raymond Riley, executive creative director at Microsoft, Bruce Claxton, the former senior director of design at Motorola Solutions, Calvin Klein, the founder of the fashion brand, Sohrab Vossoughi, a former senior industrial designer at HP, and many others.
A host of Silicon Valley companies are rooting for Samsung, including Google, Facebook, eBay, Dell, HP, Newegg, Vizio, and a smaller coalition of other tech firms. Non-profits like the Electronic Frontier Foundation also support the Korean giant, as well as 50 intellectual property professors from universities like Stanford, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and more.
If Samsung wins, it would set a precedent and affect other design patent cases. It would mean Samsung owes less money to Apple and the case would be kicked down to lower courts to decide the final amount.
If Apple wins, Samsung pays up. There would be more trials related to other design patent cases between the two.
There is also a chance of a tie, thanks to the vacant seat on the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The ruling is expected to land either in December or early in 2017.
We will keep you updated after the hearing on Tuesday, which begins at 10 a.m. ET.