Third jury trial in Apple-Samsung patent dispute postponed indefinitely

Judge Lucy Koh is concerned that the outcome of the trial could be questioned after a Supreme Court review

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A third jury trial in a patent dispute between Samsung Electronics and Apple in a court in California has been postponed pending a U.S. Supreme Court review of the principle for the award of damages for infringement of design patents.

The third trial in the case that dates back to April 2011 had been set for March 28 to reassess the damages to be paid by Samsung on five products that were earlier found to infringe certain Apple patents and dilute its trade dresses, which refer to the overall look and feel of the product. An appeals court had struck down the damages on trade dress dilution relating to these devices, as the court decided they were not protectable.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld damages for utility and design patent infringements of these products. In general, utility patents protect the way an article is used and works, while a design patent protects the way an article looks, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The third trial was called to recalculate the damages payable by Samsung.

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal on the procedure for calculation of damages is significant because Samsung is questioning whether it has to pay as damages all the profits from the sale of infringing products even though the patented designs are only minor features of the product. A number of tech companies and industry trade groups are supporting Samsung on this issue.

Samsung has already paid up $548 million conditionally in damages out of a total award to Apple of $930 million by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The third jury trial was to reassess the remaining $382 million in damages. Samsung’s challenge in the Supreme Court, if successful, would impact $399 million in damages.

The Supreme Court partially granted Samsung’s petition, limiting itself to the question: Where a design patent is applied to only a component of a product, should an award of infringer’s profits be limited to those profits attributable to the component?

Samsung asked the district court to stay proceedings, including the damages retrial, until the decision of the Supreme Court. “All three of the design patents at issue in the 2016 damages retrial are also at issue in the Federal Circuit opinion that will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court,” wrote District Judge Lucy H. Koh in her order late Tuesday.

“The question of the proper measure of damages for these design patents is central to the 2016 damages retrial, as design patent damages make up the bulk of Apple’s damages claims,” Koh added.

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