Apple v. Samsung, and its implications for Patent Translators

Courtesy of Pulso Social

It is personally interesting when the words and actions of an individual, long dead, have far-reaching implications in the present and the future, regardless of whether the individual in question is Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammad, Siddhartha Gautama, or Steve Jobs.

Of course, I’m not arguing that Steve Jobs belongs in the same cannon as the previous spiritual figures, but when a charismatic, larger-than-life figure makes it his mission to fight competitors for perceived slights, it shouldn’t be surprising that his followers will carry on his mission with a religious fervor in a court of law. Prior to his death in 2011, Steve Jobs disliked the Android OS so much, he infamously framed his crusade by saying: “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank […]. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear on this” (Italics mine).

Think about it: willing to go thermonuclear on this. If you’re a patent attorney involved in the telecommunications industry, you know instinctively what this means. Those of us who translate patent applications need to listen up, given that Apple and Samsung provide translators a steady source of translation material (thankfully!).

Apple had already initiated lawsuits against Nokia and HTC in 2009 and 2010. Given the fact that Samsung is a behemoth in the tech industry, raking in amazing profits as a successful Android device maker, providing Apple for years with components for their smartphones, Apple was bound to clash (both ideologically and financially) with their long-time partner. Patent infringement lawsuits were filed by Apple, followed by countersuits by Samsung both in the U.S. and abroad.

It behooves patent translators to become familiar with the ins and outs of this case, given that patent infringement lawsuits can be filed elsewhere in the European Union and Asia (and, indeed, already have).

At the heart of the legal dispute between these two high-tech giants are the actual and perceived profits to be made from worldwide sales of smartphones and other digital technology.

Six years on, the battle still rages on.

In the U.S., Apple was awarded a $1 billion victory in 2012. A nine-person lay jury also determined that Samsung infringed on both Apple software and design patents, but Samsung cries foul, and $450 million of the $1 billion awarded are invalidated. So, Samsung paid the $548 million it owed back in 2015, while also asking the Supreme Court to determine if a reimbursement could be granted, claiming that they were “asked to pay a ‘disproportionate sum for violating Apple’s design patents. In Samsung Elecs. Co. v. Apple Inc., 137 S. Ct. 429 (2016), the main question to be resolved was: “If an infringed design patent only applies to a component of a product, should damages for the infringement be limited to the portion of the infringer’s profits attributable to that component? “ In Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, “the relevant text of the Patent Act encompasses both an end product sold to a consumer as well as a component of that product. The fact that a component may be incorporated into the larger end product does not place it outside the category of an ‘article of manufacture”.

The case was, then, referred to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and on February 7, 2017, it was decided to remand the Apple v. Samsung case to the US District Court for the Northern District of California. As the court order mentions, Apple wants “continued panel review” by the Appeals Court, but Samsung requests the case to be remanded to the District Court for a new trial on damages. However, the Appeals Court chose not to side with any argument, and as Mueller states, the Appeals Court states that the District Court is better suited to “parse the record” and make a decision on whether additional proceedings are needed.

Since the monetary amount of the damages in question was the decision of the nine jurors, there is an immediate implication here: is it appropriate to have a lay jury in a patent infringement trial? I’m sure that both Apple and Samsung will argue the pros and cons of lay jurors on the basis of the earlier jury instructions. Additionally, as Sharma mentioned in the IPWatchdog article, the Supreme Court’s ruling to vacate the damages calculation by a lower court sets “a new precedent for calculating damages in design infringement cases,” particularly in other Apple battle fronts, such as Nokia. Complicating the issue even further is the fact that the Supreme Court had a difficult decision to make: the last ruling on patent infringement (35 U.S.C. § 289) was written over 130 years ago, “when one patent tended to cover one product”; thus, the Supreme Court had to provide an interpretation of “article of manufacture” as it relates to the infringing element of Samsung over Apple’s products.

The amicus briefs filed by other high-tech giants proves that the industry is watching these proceedings carefully. Something tells me that patent translators will be called to lead the charge when the US front of this tech battle spreads abroad.

As Apple fights additional battles with other tech giants in courtrooms over patent infringement, I believe it is worth asking if Apple’s litigious approach will be worthwhile in the long run, and how it could affect everyday users of Apple technology (such as myself), who honestly make smartphone purchase decisions on very simple factors: Will my phone shatter if I drop it carelessly? Can I afford the next iPhone or iPad? Could I afford Apple technology if they continue marking up their prices, just because they must fight tooth-and-nail, as the late Steve Jobs would want them to do? Do they want the public at large to finance their ideological/financial crusade?

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