Supreme Court To Hear Apple Samsung Design Patent Case

BY Heather Greenfield
March 21, 2016

Washington — The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will examine a lower court’s flawed ruling in a design patent law case. The controversial decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit awarded Apple all of Samsung’s profits on several smartphone models as part of a design patent dispute. The lower court’s interpretation of the law raised both Constitutional issues and highlighted the real world dangers to the tech industry, which produces complex products incorporating many different patents.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association filed an amicus brief in January asking the Supreme Court to take up this important case. CCIA argued the ruling raised constitutional issues by expanding a patent for a small ornamental feature to include all of the innovations making up a complicated device. CCIA patent counsel Matt Levy noted the constitutionality question could be easily resolved by following another court case interpreting the law to refer to the smallest item involved in the particular patent – rather than the whole product.

The following can be attributed to CCIA Patent Counsel Matt Levy:

“The technology industry is breathing a sigh of relief that this case will now get the attention it warrants by the nation’s highest court. The misinterpretation of this law by the Federal Circuit could have disastrous effects on innovation. The lower court could green light a new breed of design patent trolls that use design patents to threaten companies’ entire profits.

“It really would make no sense to have hundreds of patent holders each being able to make claims on the entire profits of a complex product. We believe, and we argued this in our brief, that the lower court overreached in an unconstitutional way by expanding a patent on the outer case of a smartphone to cover the value of the entire product — rather than just that feature.”

The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:

“We hope the Supreme Court’s agreement to hear this important case will result in design patent law finally getting some much needed oversight and an infusion of common sense. These laws were written to protect the central design of products like carpets – not the outer case of tech gadgets. Misinterpretation and overreach in patent law could have a chilling effect on innovation — the opposite intention of the patent system when it was created.”

“While tech companies can often benefit from a strong patent system, it must be one that is balanced and sensible. The lower court ruling would essentially hand patent trolls a cudgel to use against innovative companies and the U.S. economy. This would be a senseless distortion of the patent law system and the public interest innovation it was was designed to encourage.  The public benefits when companies in our industry compete more in the marketplace and less in the courtroom.”

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