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Business litigation: U.S. Supreme Court rules on patent case

Smartphones have become ubiquitous in our society, perhaps because they are so much more than just a phone. People in Moorestown use their smartphones to text, send emails, take photos and to watch videos. So, it is not surprise that many feel a deep sense of brand loyalty towards the manufacturer of their smartphone.

As such, they may be interested to hear that the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the patent infringement lawsuit between tech giants, Apple, Inc., and Samsung Electronics, Co. The Court ruled unanimously that Samsung did not have to pay back $399 million in profits after allegedly manufacturing products that copied certain parts of the Apple iPhone's signature appearance.

Apple's iPhone patents included patents on its black rectangular front face, its brightly colored grid of icons and its rounded corners. In a 2012, a jury found that Samsung infringed those patents. Samsung was then ordered to pay Apple $399 million, which amounted to all of the earnings Samsung made on the infringing products.

Samsung appealed. The Appellate Court also ruled in favor of Apple, based on existing law. There is a federal law on the books that states that if a party is found guilty of infringement of design patents on an "article of manufacture," then that party must pay back all profits made off that infringement.

The Supreme Court case turned on what is an "article of manufacture." The court ruled that sometimes "articles of manufacture" constitute the product as a whole, but other times constitutes only components of the product.

Justice Sotomayor, who wrote the opinion of the court, noted that an article of manufacture would consist of the entire product if that product had only a single component. But, when it came to multicomponent products, determining the article of manufacture is more complex.

The Supreme Court ultimately found that design patent liability did not have to be an "all-or-nothing" situation. And, as a result, an "article of manufacture" does not always have to be the final product placed up for sale. The case was returned to Federal Court where it will be considered further.

This case is a good example of the intricacies of patent infringement cases. Business litigation, such as this can be difficult for one to understand, but fortunately, there are experienced attorneys available to handle such cases.

Source: The New York Times, "Supreme Court Gives Samsung a Reprieve in Apple Patent Case," Adam Liptak & Vindu Goel, Dec. 6, 2016

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