US appeals court rules Samsung won't have to pay $930M in Apple patent case

The federal court will have to recalculate the damages because Samsung didn't violate Apple's trade dress

iPhone 5 screenshot from launch

iPhone 5 screenshot from launch

Samsung will not have to pay all of the US$930 million in damages that Apple was awarded in 2012, a U.S. appeals court ruled Monday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., agreed with a California federal jury that Samsung violated Apple design and utility patents related to the iPhone. However, the appeals court reversed the jury's finding that Samsung infringed on Apple's trade dress, or the overall look and packaging of a product.

Thus, the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, where the case was originally tried, must recalculate the portion of the settlement dealing with trade dress.

The aesthetics of an iPhone can't be protected, the appeals court said. Apple argued the iPhone's rounded edges, among other features related to the device's appearance, were meant to give the smartphone a unique look.

However, the appeals court noted that Apple had made other statements claiming these features also made the phone more intuitive to use. Claims of trade dress violations must be balanced with a company's right to conduct business by imitating a competitor's product, according to the court. If the court allowed Apple to trademark these features, the company could have a monopoly on them.

Apple sued Samsung in 2011 alleging that Samsung phones infringed on several iPhone patents. In 2012, a federal jury sided with Apple and Samsung was ordered to pay $1.05 billion in damages, although Apple had sought $2.75 billion. The judge in the case later reduced the figure to $930 million.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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