The war between Apple and Samsung finally has a resolution. Sort of.
Apple has been battling the South Korean company since 2011, the year after Samsung released a new set of Galaxy smartphones. Apple believed Samsung had infringed on the patent of its iconic iPhone by using a similarly shaped interface, rounded corners, and a home screen with a matrix of colorful icons.
In 2012, a federal jury agreed with Apple, awarding the company $399 million, the total profits Samsung made from the phones. Since then, Samsung has been appealing the ruling in various courts, with the case reaching the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.
Now, the Supreme Court has thrown out the $399 million figure. On Tuesday, SCOTUS unanimously ruled that Samsung should not have to fork over all its earnings, ruling that infringing on part of a design means surrendering only part of the profits.
Patent laws state that "it is unlawful to manufacture or sell an 'article of manufacture' to which a patented design... has been applied," according the opinion written by justice Sonia Sotomayor.
"In the case of a multicomponent product," Sotomayor wrote, "the relevant 'article of manufacture'... need not be the end product sold to the consumer but may be only a component of that product."
It's a new precedent for cases of patent infringement. As Samsung has pointed out in the past, the way the law was written, a company that designed an 18-wheeler would have to surrender all profits even if a single cup-holder infringed on a patent.
The Supreme Court didn't lay any groundwork for how the new penalty should be calculated. Instead, the case will go back to lower courts for a decision on the amount.
Surely Apple, which has an estimated market cap of $500 billion, doesn't need the money. But the case was meant to serve largely as a deterrent to others who might try to borrow from the company's intellectual property.
Instead, the case resulted in a rewriting of the rules on how courts award patent damages.
Earlier this year, Samsung riled up the design community by arguing to the court that design did not play a large role in the success of its infringing phones. More than 100 designers from companies like Calvin Klein, Bentley, and Louis Vitton wrote an open letter, schooling Samsung on design theory. The letter pointed out that design holds an especially important role for high-tech products, like phones, that would otherwise be incomprehensible to the average consumer.
Samsung v. Apple is the first patent case to reach the Supreme Court since the 1880s. The Federal Circuit will decide the eventual financial award that Apple receives.