The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) was hoping the Supreme Court would reverse a lower court judgment in a patent case involving Apple and Samsung and thereby blunt a possible tool for unscrupulous patent assertion entities (so-called 'patent trolls').
CCIA got its wish, though it had done more than hope, filing an amicus brief with the court arguing that the lower court decision expanded a small ornamental feature to include all of the innovation in the complex device (a Samsung phone).
The Supreme Court Tuesday unanimously ruled that the lower court had erred in awarding all of Samsung's profits on several smartphones ($399 million) to Apple based on infringement of a design patent.
The award was for infringing the patents on "a rectangular front face with rounded edges and a grid of colorful icons on a black screen."
Samsung had argued that the damages should be limited because the relevant "articles of manufacture" were the face and screen rather than the entire phone. The lower court said that since the face and screen were not sold separately to consumers, they were not distinct articles of manufacture.
The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that statute makes clear that an article of manufacture "is simply a thing made by hand or machine" and that "encompasses both a product sold to a consumer and a component of that product."
The court remanded the decision back to the lower court without ruling on "whether the relevant article of manufacture for each design patent at issue here is the smartphone or a particular smartphone component," simply saying that the court's interpretation that article of manufacture could not be confined to the individual components was wrong.
“This was a pivotal court case for the technology industry and it is encouraging to see the law interpreted and applied in a way that makes sense in a modern era and protects both inventors and innovation," said CCIA president Ed Black. "The lower court’s interpretation of design patents, which allowed someone to sue based on an ornamental feature and reap the entire profits of someone else’s product, would have had a chilling effect on investment and the development of products – especially in the tech sector.”