While perhaps far from over given the routine appeals of patent infringement decisions, the August 24, 2012 verdict awarding Apple $1 Billion in damages against Samsung in U.S. District Court signaled a major event in the evolving global patent landscape for mobile device technology. This particular case involved patents and trade dress for Apple’s iPhone and iPad and, in addition to the jury’s monetary damages award, Apple is also seeking to stop sales of several competing products offered by Samsung.
The anticipated magnitude of the verdict has led to much public attention in this case, so much in fact, that the Northern District of California has put up a special website for the public and media to visit. The verdict has also spawned a flurry of commentary, including viewpoints ranging from business strategies to potential impact on consumers to critiques of the U.S. patent system.
Although it may be too early to tell whether this case will someday be looked upon as a “landmark” case, important lessons can already be taken. From an intellectual property protection standpoint, this case highlights the importance of having a mix of different types of intellectual property protection in place. For instance, in this case, Apple asserted utility patent claims, which pertain to the structure and functionality of an invention; design patent claims, which cover the aesthetic looks of a product, such as graphical computer icons or the exterior look of a device; and trade dress claims, which pertain to the look and feel of a product to the extent that consumers would recognize it belongs to single source, or is sponsored by or affiliated with that sole, legitimate source. The jury instructions, which include a brief summary of each party’s contentions on page 29, can be found here.
It is noted that this particular dispute involves U.S.-based intellectual property, and that numerous foreign cases over similar technology (e.g., in Europe, Japan, South Korea, etc.), some involving the same parties, have resulted in different outcomes. Indeed, Apple has not fared well in some of the other cases, which highlights the territorial nature of intellectual property. In other words, what may be well-protected in one country may not necessarily be viewed the same way in others. Related press article. Another related press article.