Supreme Court agrees to hear Samsung's appeal in patent war with Apple

The U.S. Supreme Court announced this morning that it will take up the long-running patent feud between Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Samsung, stepping into a high-profile case that may have significant impact on the patent-litigation landscape.

The Court will take up Samsung's appeal of what it claims are excessive penalties for infringing on patented designs of the iPhone. Samsung hopes to overturn a $399 million judgment it claimed was unfairly inflated considering the relative unimportance of the patented features at the heart of the case.

Those patented features -- which include a front face with rounded corners and bezel -- didn't have a major impact on the Samsung phones in question, the Korean company said in the appeal it filed in December. "Compounding this problem," Samsung wrote, "the Federal Court allowed the jury to award Samsung's entire profits from the sale of smartphones found to contain the patented designs -- here totaling $399 million. It held that Apple was 'entitled' to those profits no matter how little the patented design features contributed to the value of Samsung's phones."

Samsung agreed to pay Apple more than $548 million in December to settle the case, but the South Korean company continued to press its appeal of $399 million of that amount. Google, Facebook, Dell, HP and others took up Samsung's cause, writing in a single amicus brief that the "interpretation of antiquated laws" could diminish innovation, encourage patent trolls and negatively affect consumers and the economy.

Samsung might find itself with more high-powered allies now that the Supreme Court is taking up the case, wrote noted intellectual property expert Florian Mueller. And the move indicates the Court recognizes "that there is a need for clarification of how to apply a 19th-century law" to address today's high-tech products and services.

"I'm very happy that the Supreme Court will now take a look at an interpretation of the law that would theoretically threaten even a company like Facebook (or little guys -- for example, 'indie' app developers) with the prospect of losing their entire profits over a single design patent infringement," Mueller wrote. "I'm hopeful that something good will come out of this."

For more:
- see this Reuters report
- read this Florian Mueller post

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