Apple VS Samsung’s US$1B Patent Battle Has Designers Taking The Hot Seat



Left image via TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com, right image via Mahony / Shutterstock.com

Yesterday you read about Apple versus Samsung’s US$1 billion patent battle that shed more light on the iPhone’s otherwise secretive design process.

The tech giants have found themselves back in the courtroom this month, thereby extending their seven-year dispute involving iPhone patent infringements by Samsung.

On Tuesday, Apple’s senior director of its design team Richard Howarth, Apple’s VP of procurement Tony Blevins, and Apple’s VP of product marketing Greg Joswiak testified in the trial, which has sparked much debate surrounding what, precisely, constitutes an “article of manufacture” that a patent truly governs.

The opposing views by Apple and Samsung, which you can read here, have supporters of either camps divided.

The jury’s decision and outcome of the trial is anticipated to have major influence on the power of design patents in the tech landscape.

While it was determined through an earlier trial that Samsung had infringed three of Apple’s design patents—covering the aesthetic elements of the iPhone and another two involving how the gadget works—the damage payout by Samsung has yet to be determined. This could be based on either profits garnered from the entire phones as the Apple team argues, or simply from their individual infringed components as the Samsung camp contends.

In addition to Howarth, Blevins, and Joswiak, the Cupertino giant has also brought in two other Apple expert witnesses to testify at the trial. They are industrial designer Alan Ball and Susan Kare—graphic designer behind the icons of the original Macintosh computers.

Ball addressed design patents D’677 and D’087, both of which Howarth created, to support Apple’s stand that the “entire smartphones” are the articles of manufacture.

Kare, meanwhile, defended design patent D’305 that involves a grid of colorful icons with the firm statement, “To me, no question—in each case, the D’305 [patent] was applied to each of these finished phones—the whole phone.”

Samsung’s lawyers responded by trying to get the Apple experts to acknowledge that phones are indeed made of components. Kare agreed that “a display screen is a thing,” and according to CNET, an article of manufacture that comes along with other parts. However, she also called it an “organic, holistic design” that breaches Apple’s D’035 patent.

Ball added that while you can dissemble a gadget to reveal its elements, does not mean that was how it was intended.

“Just because you can take something apart doesn’t mean it was designed to be that way. If you replace [a component], you’re trying to get back to that thing that you bought,” Ball explained.

In an interview with CNET, Sarah Burstein, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma who studies issues on the article of manufacture, agreed with Samsung’s perspective.

She explained that Apple’s premise would result in an award that is wholly disproportionate to any actual damage suffered—something Blevins, who described the debut of Samsung’s similar phones as coming with “every negative emotion you could imagine,” might passionately disagree on. He’d recounted how the iPhone design team had made significant sacrifices to perfect the smartphone, only to be greeted by Samsung’s blatant rip offs when the latter’s models debuted.

Burstein added that while a major company like Samsung could afford to battle such a claim, not every accused infringer had the power or means to do so.

Based on the archival meaning of “article of manufacture,” Burstein believes that it was not intended by Congress for any entity to be able to patent a design, for instance over a screen, only to receive profits for the entire phone.

This Friday, closing arguments for this case will be presented before jury deliberations on Monday.

Stay tuned for more updates on this design patent case.

[via 9to5Mac and CNET, left image via TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com, right image via Mahony / Shutterstock.com]

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