Apple Vs. Samsung: Case Overview for the Patent Trial of the Century

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Over the course of the last few years, Apple has unleashed a slew of intellectual-property lawsuits against Android device manufacturers such as: HTC, Motorola and of course, the poster child of this continued litigation, Samsung. While IP lawsuits are nothing new in the world of technology manufacturers, it has become glaringly apparent after the ban of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Germany (back in September 2011) that this case could hold serious repercussions for both parties and consumers alike.

Apple vs. SamungSince then, the two mobile giants have been preparing for their trial case which is scheduled for Monday, July 30. With no love lost between the two parties and the astronomical stakes at hand, this case has all the makings of a landmark trial.

The Complaint            

The case began over a year ago with Apple issuing an official complaint on April 15, 2011, stating:

“Instead of pursuing independent product development, Samsung has chosen to slavishly copy Apple’s innovative technology, distinctive user interfaces, and elegant and distinctive product and packaging design, in violation of Apple’s valuable intellectual property rights.”

The interesting thing about the complaint brought forth by Apple is its wording. Apple takes as much issue with Samsung lifting design elements from their brand, as they do with the core design of its operating system Android. Notably this greatly increases the significance of this case, potentially making this case as much about Google as it is about Samsung.

Trade Dress Infringement

Apple introduces a number of trade dress infringement claims under 15 U.S.C. – 1125 and 15 U.S.C. – 1114. Trade dress is a form of intellectual property that basically refers to the visual aesthetics of a product or packaging (including design elements) that signify the source of the product with consumers. Basically meaning any iconic visuals that spur brand recognition with the consumer, such as Apple’s use of the prefix ‘i’ in their products (i.e. iPhone, iPod). Namely this law is in place to protect the consumer from being confused into thinking that a product has affiliation with another brand or company.

If you take a look at the case (which can be found here) it’s apparent that some of these individual claims are outlandish. For example, it’s unlikely that Apple will try to sue everyone who uses a tray that cradles their product so that it’s visible when opening the packaging. However, the important thing to understand is that the court will be looking at these claims collectively; deciding if the overall appearances of Samsung’s products (hardware, software, and packaging) are intended to create a connection between Apple products.

Additionally it’s worthwhile to note that Apple has a stronger claim with their second and third trade dress claims than their first, due to the fact that they have already established patents for the elements that are addressed in the claims. This means that Apple has already convinced the US Patent and Trademark office that these elements are distinctive and protectable. Again, it all comes back to whether or not the design of Samsung’s products could confuse the ‘average’ consumer into thinking that they are Apple products.

Infringement of design patents

In addition to the three prior trade dress claims, Apple also makes a number of design patent claims that act somewhat similar to the previous claims made. The major difference between the trade dress claims and patent claims is how they are legitimized, but regardless, both claims ultimately raise the same question: is the protected device similar enough to the product in question that it could potentially trick the consumer into thinking that there is a connection between the two?

This question (while grossly oversimplified) is what the majority of the case will revolve around, especially the portions that specifically target Samsung’s designs.

Additional Patent Claims

While the majority of the case revolves around Samsung’s designs, Apple has issued a number of claims that deal with more technical claims revolving around Android-related content. Most of these claims are related to small technical applications, but the major claim of course is the one concerning patent #8,086,604: “the universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system” (a.k.a. their universal search function).

Damages

On July 24, Apple released information that outlined the proposed damages of Samsung’s alleged patent infringement at $2.5 billion. This would cover what Apple estimates are $500 million in lost profits, about $2 million form Samsung’s “unjust enrichment”, and $25 million for other “reasonable royalty damages”. These damages are also apt to grow if Samsung is found to have willfully infringed the patents, and Apple argues that Samsung “chose to compete by copying Apple”.

If Samsung is found guilty of infringing patents, one of two things could happen. Either Samsung would be forced to stop selling the products that use the infringing elements or Samsung would have to license these patents from Apple. If the latter is the case, Apple is asking anywhere from $2.02 per unit of “over scroll bounce” techniques to $24 for more in-depth patents.

There is also a great deal of risk involved for Apple as well. If Samsung is to win its counterclaim it could potentially cost Apple billions of dollars in licensing fees and force them to remove products off their shelves. While this is unlikely, it certainly is not out of the realm of possibility.

At this point it seems rather unlikely that the two parties will be able to reach a form of settlement; meaning that the 10 jurors (most of whom likely have little to no prior understanding of software design and the patent system) will have the power not only to determine liability, but to put a dollar figure on the amount.

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