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Samsung takes Apple patent battle to US Supreme Court

The South Korean company hopes the court will provide some guidance on the scope of design patents and the damages allowed.

Samsung has asked the US Supreme Court to consider its patent infringement case versus Apple.
Robert Huberman/SuperStock/Corbis

Samsung's taking its suit against Apple all the way to the Supreme Court -- if the justices will consider the case, that is.

The South Korean electronics giant on Monday filed a request with the highest court in the US, asking it to re-examine the decisions made in the patent infringement lawsuits pitting Samsung against Apple. The trial, which ended in 2012, cast a bright light on the designs behind some of the most popular smartphones, and it resulted in Samsung ultimately having to pay Apple $548 million.

"While Samsung prefers to compete in the marketplace, not the courtroom, the company feels that it is important to appeal this case to the US Supreme Court on behalf of all US companies, big and small, that could be affected if this legal precedent stands," Samsung said in a statement.

If the Supreme Court decides to take the case, its eventual decision could have a ripple effect on the technology industry and the kinds of gadgets you'll be able to buy. Samsung and some of Silicon Valley's biggest players, including Google and Facebook, have argued that the lower-court ruling as it stands may have a "devastating impact" on the introduction of new products because of a heightened fear of legal challenges. Apple said all along that it was doing what was necessary to defend its intellectual property and the value of its blockbuster iPhone franchise.

It's unclear whether the Supreme Court will consider the case. It hasn't looked at a suit involving design patents since the 1800s. Those cases involved a spoon handle, a carpet, a saddle and a rug. Since that time, a lot has changed, including the introduction of electronic devices like the ones Apple and Samsung make. Samsung wants the Supreme Court to give guidance on what's covered by design patents and what damages can be collected.

Asking the Supreme Court to hear a case "is always an uphill battle," said Mark Lemley, an intellectual property law professor at Stanford Law School. "But this is a very high-profile case."

The original trial, which pitted two of the world's largest tech companies against each other, captivated Silicon Valley and the tech industry because it exposed the inner workings of two notoriously secretive companies. It was just one of many trials around the world as the two rivals sparred both in the marketplace and in the courtroom. At issue were design patents for a black, rectangular, round-cornered front face; a similar rectangular round-cornered front face plus the surrounding rim, known as the bezel; and a colorful grid of 16 icons.

Apple and Samsung last year agreed to bury the hatchet in their overseas cases, but their US suits have continued. Earlier this month, Samsung said it would pay Apple the $548 million that the courts have ordered it to pay, and its Supreme Court request won't change that unless the justices come back with a ruling that reverses earlier decisions.

One of the questions the Supreme Court could potentially settle is the penalty for infringing upon a design. Instead of damages being based on the specific value of the item infringed, they're determined by the profits for the overall device. In the case of smartphones, that could be the difference between pennies and hundreds of dollars per device.

While a big company like Samsung can afford lawyer and court fees, it also fears copycat lawsuits by so-called patent trolls. The broader concern is that smaller companies facing a pricey lawsuit may have to scrap their entire operations, depriving you of their next killer gadgets.

"It's bad for innovation, and it's bad for competition," a Samsung representative told CNET. "We're dealing with a really old law, and we need a sensible interpretation for modern times, the modern marketplace and modern products."

Apple declined to offer a comment on the Supreme Court filing. It referred instead to its statement at the time of the 2012 ruling, when it said that the decision sent "a loud and clear message that stealing isn't right."

The Supreme Court likely will decide by February whether to take the case, Lemley said.

Here's Samsung's filing:

Samsung turns to Supreme Court in Apple patent case