Samsung wins US Supreme Court appeal in $399 mn damages payment to Apple

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed an appeals court order directing Korean smarphone major Samsung to pay $399 million to US rival Apple in penalty for alleged copying key design features of the iPhone.

In its ruling, backed by all members of the 8-judge bench, the apex court held that since the alleged copying of designs involved only parts of the product, the patent violator need not pay the entire profit from the sale of the product as damages.

The ruling, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, tries to bare the excesses in the appeals court's ruling in a case where the dispute related to only the designs of certain components and not the whole product.

The appeals court relied on a federal law that says companies found liable for infringing design patents on an ''article of manufacture'' are liable for their total profits.

However, unlike utility patents of products that cover the working of products, design patents that deal with the looks of products are far fewer and the Supreme Court had not heard a design patent case in over a century (See: Apple-Samsung patent battle leaves US top court mystified).

Apple's patents covered specific design elements of the iPhone, including its black rectangular front face with rounded corners and its colorful grid of 16 icons. A jury found in 2012 that Samsung had infringed those patents.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a specialised court that handles patent appeals, ruled that the federal law ''explicitly authorises the award of total profit from the article of manufacture bearing the patented design.''

The apex court sent the case back to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington to decide afresh how much Samsung must pay. The judges, however, did not provide any directions to the lower court on how to proceed in such cases.

Samsung claimed the ruling was a "victory for Samsung and for all those who promote creativity, innovation and fair competition in the marketplace."

Cupertino, California-based Apple, however, expects the lower court to stick to the figure, which itself is a discounted figure from the original penalty of nearly $1 billion.

A US court had in 2012, slapped Samsung with $930 million in penalties for allegedly infringing Apple's iPhone patents and copying its distinctive design features in its Galaxy smartphone. The fine  was later  cut by $382 million to $399 million.

Samsung in December 2015 paid Apple $548 million, but moved the Supreme Court, saying it should not have had to make $399 million of that payout for imitating the iPhone's rounded-corner front face, bezel and colorful grid of icons that represent programmes and applications, which are all patented by Apple.

Samsung that was ruling as the world's top smartphone maker, has now lost all claims in the smartphone market after the failure of is Galaxy 7 Note smartphone.