Supreme court date nears in Apple v Samsung patent war

10 Oct 2016

Apple and Samsung. Image: Roman Pyshchyk/Shutterstock

The five-year patent dispute between Samsung and Apple inches towards its zenith this week as the US supreme court hears arguments from both sides.

Samsung and Apple’s multiple patent disputes can cause confusion to the average onlooker. With jurisdictional issues abound, courts in several countries and regions have decided on ‘who stole what from who’ in recent years.

Appeals, counter appeals and kicking the ball further down the line have ensued but, in the US at least, things could change very soon.

Apple Samsung patent war Supreme Court

To and fro

Last March, the US supreme court agreed to hear one of the disputes, following Samsung’s appeal against a ruling that said it owed Apple $548m in total for patent infringements.

The dispute relates to devices from 2011, with Apple arguing Samsung’s suite of devices – including the Galaxy Prevail, Nexus S 4G, Galaxy Tab, Galaxy SII and more – infringed on its iPhone and iPad designs.

As CNET reports, the main issues are design patents for a black, rectangular, round-cornered front face, a rectangular round-cornered front face plus the surrounding rim (bezel), and a colourful grid of 16 icons. Those three patents are what’s being considered in the supreme court case.

Listening to arguments tomorrow (11 October), there will probably be a three-month wait for the final ruling which will have far-reaching consequences in US technology in future.

As Financial Review reports, it could eventually decide damages and, more importantly, “define the value of design work, which is increasingly valuable in the tech industry as products like smartphones become commodities”.

This is only one of many, many disputes between Samsung and Apple.

For example, in 2014, Apple was awarded almost $120m after a court found Samsung infringed several patents (Apple owed $158,400 to Samsung in the same ruling).

Samsung appealed and won, before last week seeing that appeal overruled by a federal court.

For a company that once championed the borrowing and innovating of other companies’ designs, Apple’s attitude since it emerged as a major player has shifted dramatically.

Glass houses

And the company is not immune to lawsuits from companies beyond Samsung, either.

In May, prestigious US engineering school Caltech sued Apple and Broadcom for allegedly violating four Wi-Fi patents in some of Apple’s top products, including the iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air and Apple Watch.

Caltech is alleging that Broadcom chips in devices from the iPhone 5 onward use technology that is a copy of Caltech decoding and encoding technology used to improve data flow.

In February, Apple found itself on the end of a lawsuit over another company’s claim that it infringed its patent design for much of its haptic feedback technologies like 3D Touch and Force Touch.

The lawsuit was filed by a company called Immersion, which cited technologies like its Force Touch, 3D Touch and Apple Watch Taptic engine, all the way down to its vibration patterns, ringtones and notifications.

That came just after Apple was ordered to pay $625m in a patent dispute with VirnetX. This incident revolved around a dispute over VPN security technology, which VirnetX said it owns the patents for, and which it claims Apple uses in some of its software, such as FaceTime.

It’s situations like these that show why start-ups need to prioritise protecting their intellectual property.

Apple and Samsung. Image: Roman Pyshchyk/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic