Federal Circuit remands Apple v. Samsung design patent case to Judge Koh in Northern California

Judge Lucy Koh

Judge Lucy Koh. License: CC BY-SA 4.0.

Earlier this week, in a non-precedential decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit remanded Apple, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. back to Judge Lucy Koh of the United States Federal District Court for the Northern District of California. In December 2016, the Supreme Court overturned a $400 million damages award for design patent infringement. In it’s ruling the Supreme Court explained that damages may be limited to revenues attributable to a component of an article of manufacture and not the entire article itself. See Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple, Inc.

Apple requested that the Federal Circuit keep the case and the panel review the decision in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, while Samsung requested that the Federal Circuit remand the matter to the district court for a new trial on damages. The Federal Circuit adopted neither suggestion. Instead, the Federal Circuit chose to remand the case for further proceedings, which the panel explained may or may not include a new trial on damages. Judge Koh will decide whether a new trial on damages is necessary.

The Federal Circuit panel wrote in a per curiam decision:

In short, the parties dispute what jury instructions the current trial record supports. Because the district court is better positioned to parse the record to evaluate the parties’ competing arguments, we remand for the district court to consider these issues in the first instance.

On remand, the trial court should consider the parties’ arguments in light of the trial record and determine what additional proceedings, if any, are needed. If the court determines that a new damages trial is necessary, it will have the opportunity to set forth a test for identifying the relevant article of manufacture for purposes of § 289, and to apply that test to this case. Accordingly, we remand this matter to the district court for further proceedings.

“It’s not surprising that the Federal Circuit decided to give the district court wide latitude to reconsider the merits of the damages case after the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Christopher Loh, a partner with Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto. “The Supreme Court didn’t provide specific guidance on how to apply its rulings to the facts of the case, so the Federal Circuit wisely determined that the details were best left to the person most familiar with those facts: Judge Koh.”

So now the dispute will return to the Northern District of California.

“It will be interesting to see whether and to what extent Judge Koh allows Samsung to present additional evidence in its favor, and whether Judge Koh will in fact proceed with a new trial,” said Loh.


Thumbnail Sketch of the Dispute

This design patent dispute relates to the ongoing patent war between two technology giants. A jury in the Northern District of California found that Samsung infringed Apple design patents, Apple utility patents and also diluted Apple’s trade dresses. The infringed design patents are U.S. Design Patent Nos. D618,677 (“D’677 patent”), D593,087 (“D’087 patent”), and D604,305 (“D’305 patent”), which claim certain design elements embodied in Apple’s iPhone. The infringed utility patents were U.S. Patent Nos. 7,469,381 (“’381 patent”), 7,844,915 (“’915 patent”), and 7,864,163 (“’163 patent”), which claim certain features in the iPhone’s user interface. The diluted trade dresses are Trademark Registration No. 3,470,983 (“’983 trade dress”) and an unregistered trade dress defined in terms of certain elements in the configuration of the iPhone.

Following the first jury trial, the district court upheld the jury’s infringement, dilution, and validity findings over Samsung’s post-trial motion. The district court also upheld $639,403,248 in damages, but ordered a partial retrial on the remainder of the damages because they had been awarded for a period when Samsung lacked notice of some of the asserted patents. The jury in the partial retrial on damages awarded Apple $290,456,793, which the district court upheld over Samsung’s second post-trial motion. On March 6, 2014, the district court entered a final judgment in favor of Apple, and Samsung filed a notice of appeal. All totaled, the amount won by Apple as a result of the infringement (i.e., damages as well as pre-judgment and post-judgment interest) reached to $399 million.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the jury’s verdict on the design patent infringements, the validity of two utility patent claims, and the damages awarded for the design and utility patent infringements appealed by Samsung. The Federal Circuit also reversed the jury’s findings that the asserted trade dresses are protectable. See Apple v. Samsung (Fed. Cir. May 18, 2015).

The Federal Circuit’s decision from May 2015 upheld the traditional interpretation of §289, finding that the whole of the infringing Samsung smartphone products was the only permissible article of manufacture because consumers could not buy the smartphone in individual components. In oral arguments presented to the Supreme Court on October 12th, Samsung’s counsel made the case that the damages award should not be derived from the entire profits on the sale of design patent-infringing smartphones when those design patents only covered a portion of the device’s appearance.

In its December 2016 decision, the Supreme Court explained that determining the proper damages award under §289 involves two steps. “First, identify the ‘article of manufacture’ to which the infringed design has been applied. Second, calculate the infringer’s total profit made on that article of manufacture.” The Supreme Court would go on to conclude that the term “article of manufacture is broad enough to encompass both a product sold to a consumer as well as a component of that product.” Having reached that conclusion the Supreme Court had little difficulty concluding that the narrow interpretation of  §289 by the Federal Circuit, which found that the article of manufacture could only cover an end product sold to consumers, was inappropriate.


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Join the Discussion

7 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    February 12, 2017 06:56 am

    Inventor Woes,

    The IPR stands as what Congress actually wrote – that much is true.

    There are separate arguments though as to why that law – as written rightfully by Congress – does not meet constitutional protections of property.

    You may “doubt” any proposition that you want to – but an ambiguous doubt does not reach for the distinctions present with those distinctions being that there are different principles involved.

    As to “lack of standing – that is NOT one of those issues that impairs the IPR section of the AIA. You may recall another section of the AIA that removed a “no standing required” aspect of the law: the False Marking section. Lacking standing is just not so severe a detriment as you seem inclined to believe (and I see no basis why you would ascribe such a view to me, as you implicitly do by bringing up that as an example of your “doubt”).

  • [Avatar for Inventor Woes]
    Inventor Woes
    February 11, 2017 07:25 pm


    If that’s the case, then the IPR process should stand, as it is directly what the law says. Anyone can file an IPR, regardless of standing as many have stated here. Thus would you be for that proposition? I doubt it.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    February 11, 2017 08:40 am

    Inventor Woes,

    It makes sense NOT to twist the direct words of the law to reach any one particular desired end state.

    The law is what the law is.

    In cases of clarity – such as here – one may not like the result of that law, but to promulgate a purposeful obfuscation just to reach a desired end state is exactly the worst approach to take.

    The proper approach for the court is to apply the law as it was meant and was actually written.

    If the result of that straight forward application is one of public outrage, then the proper channel of that outrage funneling through the correct branch of the government to change the “offending” law would occur – as the system of government that we have was designed to do.

  • [Avatar for Anon2]
    February 10, 2017 12:08 pm


    When a design is a shape such as for example a vase, normally an integral single molded product, I believe if the design is still applied to a multicomponent vase.

    For example one with a wooden base, a silver midsection, and a glass top section (with lights embedded inside the glass itself). Certainly the whole product has had the design applied to it. I would argue that each piece (article?) of the product sold has had the design applied to it because it was shaped to fit that portion of the design it constitutes, and although each piece does not have the totality of the design applied to it, it has the design applied to it in some portion.

  • [Avatar for Paul F. Morgan]
    Paul F. Morgan
    February 10, 2017 08:08 am

    IW, “loading “add-on’s” and accessories” is indeed what happened with “smart phones.” E.g. there was no essential reason why a pocket telephone had to include the addition of fancy cameras, Bluetooth, ability to store and play movies, games, hi-def color screens, etc., etc. That may well be one reason why smartphones represented a much poorer fact situation to be insisting on a strict interpretation of the old design damages statute than for other products.

    Anon2, I don’t think it is at all common that a single design could be “applied” to multiple components making up a single physical product. But one example might be a set of multiple design-patented screws holding the product together. In that case could not the “article of manufacture” be the whole set of screws?

  • [Avatar for Inventor Woes]
    Inventor Woes
    February 9, 2017 10:21 pm

    It makes sense to limit damages to only the infringed component and not the whole system. Otherwise someone could just keep loading “add-ons” and accessories to the main product as a “bundle” and say that “it comes with everything as a single package” in order to hike up any potential damages from a future lawsuit.

  • [Avatar for Anon2]
    February 9, 2017 11:26 am

    Factually, a single design could be “applied” to multiple components making up a single physical product. I don’t understand why the Supreme Court used singular language. It probably doesn’t mean anything though.