Last March, the District Court for the Northern District of California entered a final judgment in the Apple v. Samsung saga, awarding Apple almost $930 Million in damages for Samsung’s infringement of Apple’s trade dress, both registered and unregistered, and design and utility patents. After several appeals, the Federal Circuit announced that Apple’s trade dress is functional and remanded to the District Court for entry of final judgment on damages only pertaining to the various patent infringements.
Apple asserted both registered and unregistered trade dress against Samsung. Its unregistered trade dress was directed to the general appearance of the phone:
a rectangular product with four evenly rounded corners; a flat, clear surface covering the front of the product; a display screen under the clear surface; substantial black borders above and below the display screen and narrower black borders on either side of the screen; and when the device is on, a row of small dots on the display screen, a matrix of colorful square icons with evenly rounded corners within the display screen, and an unchanging bottom dock of colorful square icons with evenly rounded corners set off from the display’s other icons.
The Federal Circuit found that the design, at least as defined by Apple, contained distinct utilitarian advantages. Additionally, the general lack of alternative designs with the same utilitarian advantages also contributed to the finding.
Apple’s registered trade dress, U.S. Registration No. 3,470,983, contains more specific descriptions of the iOS icons. At the District Court level, Samsung offered evidence that the individual elements of the ‘983 trade dress are functional. Indeed, Apple’s own user interface expert testified that icon designs promote usability. Apple attempted to rebut the argument by stating that Samsung had improperly dis-aggregated the ‘983 trade dress into individual elements, and rightly so. However, the Federal Circuit found Apple’s inability to articulate how the individual elements come together in a distinctive whole to be fatal to Apple.
Some estimates find that the Federal Circuit’s ruling could reduce Samsung’s liability by as much as $382 Million, leaving Apple to collect about $548 Million.