Intellectual Property Law
Davis Brown Law Firm
"So a jury recently decided that Samsung deliberately copied the
rounded corners of the iPhone and punished the company with an award to
Apple exceeding $1 billion? How is that even possible?"
repeatedly asked versions of this question by many who feel the decision
highlights our broken patent system - a system in which the rounded
corners of the iPhone allow Apple to bully others who used that
"obvious" design feature.
Yes, it is true that Samsung was found
to infringe on Apple's rounded-corner patent, but that is only one part
of story; the verdict was based on many factors. Although the headlines
latched onto the rounded corners, the jury actually found that Samsung
infringed on six patents, infringement of any one of which would have
resulted in liability.
In addition to Apple's three design patents
(covering the "look" - those rounded corners), there were three utility
patents (covering the way devices actually work). These cover the
"bounce back" that occurs at the end of a page, the way the phone
differentiates between one-finger and two-finger gestures, and "tap to
zoom." Although these seem common now, the evidence showed that at the
time the technology was created (circa 2007), there wasn't any
technology close to Apple's. At that time, Blackberry and Palm dominated
the market, and the iPhone's features were unheard of and cutting-edge
when incorporated into a mobile phone. And that's why Samsung copied
You'll note that I haven't even discussed the rounded-corner
patent, which arguably should have been tossed out (along with the two
other design patents). Samsung presented strong evidence of pre-iPhone
phones with strikingly similar corners, but the jury still found these
patents to be infringed. Even if the jury got it wrong there, it is
probably a correct outcome. Although $1 billion might be shocking in its
size, it is supported by Samsung's intentional copying of the iPhone's
patented functionality and Apple's innovations in the utility patents.