Apple finally beats Samsung in patent lawsuit... maybe

The Supreme Court declined to hear any more about Samsung wanting to invalidate Apple's patents, but that doesn't mean the fight's over yet.

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Five years ago, Apple thought it had crushed Samsung in a courtroom for patent violations. Apple believed it might get as much as $2.5 billion in damages. Years later, Apple won one more case in this never-ending legal fight -- when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) declined Samsung's Petition for certiorari. But, Apple will only get a fraction of what it originally wanted. In fact, Apple may not even get that much.

The 2014 jury trial had found Samsung had infringed Apple patents on "quick links" in smartphones to phone numbers, the "slide-to-unlock" feature, and auto-correct.

Samsung had followed the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit panel, which reversed the 2014 decision logic on the grounds no reasonable jury could have found Samsung infringed the quick links and the slide-to-unlock patents because they were obvious. Samsung's certiorari argument -- a request that SCOTUS review a lower-court decision -- was Apple patents were obvious and trivial to anyone who knew user interface design basics.

The Federal Circuit court, without a full briefing or argument, however, reinstated the 2014 verdict. SCOTUS declined to review the case. In part, this was because the US solicitor general's had recommended against the cert, because Samsung had failed to object to the jury instructions on obviousness in the 2014 case.

This decision doesn't mean that SCOTUS agreed with the Federal Circuit or the jury's decision. As Florian Mueller, editor of FOSS Patents, speculated, "The decision to deny certiorari doesn't mean that the Supreme Court agrees with the Federal Circuit on any of the substantive issues in the case. Part of the anti-cert argument was that other cases might be better vehicles for addressing those issues."

SCOTUS may yet get another crack at the case. In December 2016, SCOTUS decided that a previous judgment against Samsung was unfair. That's because the jury may not have understood that damages for design patent infringement can be based only the part that infringed the patents, not the whole product.

So, on May 14, 2018, Samsung and Apple will square off once more on how much Samsung owes Apple for its patent violations. US District Court judge Lucy Koh, who has presided over this case for years, warned both sides that she doesn't want "a complete do-over" and she would prefer to "not keep doing this until I retire."

She's not the only one who feels that way.

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