On April 15, 2011, Apple Inc., maker of the iPhone, iPod, and iPad devices, sued Samsung, maker of a variety of smartphones, in United States District Court for the North District of California. Apple’s primary claims were that a number of Samsung’s products infringed on Apple’s patents and trademarks. As a quick primer on patent and trademarks: (1) A patent is the “exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention for a specified period (usu. 20 years), granted by the federal government to the inventor if the device or process is novel, useful, and nonobvious.” 35 U.S.C. §§ 101-103; (2) A trademark is “a word, phrase, logo, or other graphic symbol used by a manufacturer or seller to distinguish its product or products from those of others.” Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed.). To receive federal trademark protection, a trademark must be: (1) distinctive rather than merely descriptive, (2) affixed to a product that is actually sold in the marketplace, and (3) registered with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Apple’s lawsuit is also notable for its stylish prose and its blunt self-appraisal. For instance, Apple gloats over the success of the iPhone in legal documents it filed, stating “[a]s a direct result of its innovative and distinctive design and its cutting edge technological features, the iPhone was an instant success.” Apple continues “[r]eviewers and analysts universally praised the iPhone for its ‘game changing’ features.” Apple asserted that Samsung, “rather than innovating or developing its own technology,” has set about on a course of “slavishly” copying its designs. Apple claimed that such copying is “particularly problematic because the Samsung…products are the type of products that will be used in public – on the bus, in cafes, in stores, or at school, where third parties, who were not present when the products were purchased, will associate them with Apple because they have the unmistakable Apple look….”
Samsung, in its Answer to the Apple Complaint, denied all of the allegations. Samsung boasted that it “has been a pioneer in the mobile device business sector since the inception of the mobile device industry.” Moreover, Samsung counter-claimed that “Apple has copied many of Samsung’s innovations in its Apple iPhone, iPod, and iPad products.”
Eventually the case made it to trial, which was scheduled for four weeks beginning on July 22, 2012. Ten jurors were winnowed from a pool of 74, with occupations ranging from an unemployed video gamer to a systems engineer. In order for Apple to succeed at trial, the jury would need to find unanimously in its favor. Indeed, all ten jurors found in favor of Apple on most of its claims on August 25, 2012. Put another way, Samsung infringed upon the design and utility patents owned by Apple.
The verdict in this extraordinary case: a staggering $1,051,855,000.00 in favor of Apple. As some analysts have quipped, one potential upshot from the Apple litigation is that consumers may now see more choices in the design of handheld electronics. Because Samsung was found liable, it will have to go back to the drawing board and create unique content for its handheld devices. Samsung’s statement following the verdict rebuked this claim, stating “[t]oday’s verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices….” However, we can put off worrying about the practical implications of the verdict until another day. Samsung has already vowed to appeal.