At long last, the Federal Circuit has handed down its decision in Samsung's appeal from the district court's $930 Million judgment in favor of Apple in the Apple v. Samsung case. While the decision focuses on both trade dress and design patent issues, this post will focus on the design patent aspects of the decision. With respect to design patents, the Federal Circuit addressed two very important questions: 1) whether Judge Koh improperly failed to instruct the jury to disregard functional aspects of Apple's design patents, and 2) whether Judge Koh erred by allowing the jury to award Apple, Samsung's "total profits" from the accused smart phones. We summarize these two aspects of the decision, below.
I. Whether Judge Koh Improperly Failed to Instruct the Jury to Disregard Functional Aspects of Apple's Design Patents
On appeal, Samsung argued that the district court either incorrectly construed the design patent or failed to properly instruct the jury. Specifically, Samsung argued that in either the claim construction or the jury instructions, the district court should have informed the jury as to which design elements of Apple's phones were functional, and instruct the jury to disregard them. Samsung pointed to the rounded corners and rectangular screen of the Iphone as being allegedly functional.
Samsung based its argument on the Federal Circuit's prior decision in Richardson v. Stanley Works, where the Federal Circuit endorsed the idea of "filtering out" the functional limitations from a design patent through claim construction:
The district court here properly factored out the functional aspects of Richardson's design as part of its claim construction. By definition, the patented design is for a multi-function tool that has several functional components, and we have made clear that a design patent, unlike a utility patent, limits protection to the ornamental design of the article. ... If the patented design is primarily functional rather than ornamental, the patent is invalid. ... However, when the design also contains ornamental aspects, it is entitled to a design patent whose scope is limited to those aspects alone and does not extend to any functional elements of the claimed article.Richardson v. Stanley Works, Inc., 597 F. 3d 1288, 1293-94 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).
It seems like the Federal Circuit could have simply distinguished Apple's design patents as not including functional design elements. But, instead, the Federal Circuit attempted to distinguish Richardson in a way that leaves one wondering when Richardson applies, if ever:
Our case law does not support Samsung’s position. In Richardson, the design patent at issue depicted a multifunction tool with numerous components that were “dictated by their functional purpose.” ... But the claim construction in Richardson did not exclude those components in their entirety. Rather, the claim construction included the ornamental aspects of those components: “the standard shape of the hammer-head, the diamond-shaped flare of the crow-bar and the top of the jaw, the rounded neck, the orientation of the crow-bar relative to the head of the tool, and the plain, undecorated handle.” ... As such, the language “dictated by their functional purpose” in Richardson was only a description of the facts there; it did not establish a rule to eliminate entire elements from the claim scope as Samsung argues.
Apple v. Samsung, Slip Op. at 20 (emphasis added). Based on the Federal Circuit's decision, it is very unclear when, if ever, Richardson now applies. If the words "factored out the functional aspects of Richardson's design" do not mean "exclude those components in their entirety," then what do they mean? Furthermore, if the claim construction in Richardson was intended to allow the design patent claim to "include the ornamental aspects of those components," then what is the point of "factor[ing] out" functional limitations at all?
This portion of the court's decision probably creates more questions than answers, and doesn't seem to be necessary, based on the nature of Apple's design patents. Given the confusing nature of the court's decision, and the apparent conflict with Richardson, Samsung likely has strong grounds for an en banc appeal on this point.
II. Whether Judge Koh Erred by Allowing the Jury to Award Apple, Samsung's "Total Profits" from the Accused Smart Phones
Many commentators predicted that the Federal Circuit would take this opportunity to revise the law regarding apportionment of an infringer's profits. Several law school professors even filed an amicus brief, arguing that § 289 of the Patent Act should be interpreted to require some form of apportionment. However, the Federal Circuit's analysis on this point was short and sweet:
In reciting that an infringer “shall be liable to the owner to the extent of [the infringer’s] total profit,” Section 289 explicitly authorizes the award of total profit from the article of manufacture bearing the patented design. Several other courts also concluded that Section 289 authorizes such award of total profit. ... The clear statutory language prevents us from adopting a “causation” rule as Samsung urges.
Apple v. Samsung, Slip Op. at 26-27. With regard to the law professors' amicus arguments, the court dismissed them in a footnote as "policy arguments that should be directed to Congress. We are bound by what the statute says, irrespective of policy arguments that may be made against it." Id. n. 1.