Appeals Court Overturns Key Finding In Apple Vs. Samsung

The new decision comes down to whether the iPhone's design is just pretty, or also useful.

An appeals court has reversed part of Apple's patent victory over Samsung, a decision that could shave as much $382 million from the $929 million in damages originally awarded to Apple.

It's the latest twist in the 2012 case in which a jury found that Samsung infringed on a number of Apple's design and utility patents for the iPhone.

In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that while Samsung did violate Apple's design patents for the iPhone, it did not infringe upon the device's so-called trade dress: physical characteristics such as its rectangular shape with four rounded corners and steel bezel.

Apple had argued that these design elements served a nonfunctional purpose and were thus protected under patent law. But the appeals court disagreed, noting that these features also made the iPhone easier and more intuitive to use — something Apple itself had pointed out during the case.

Of the $929 million in damages awarded to Apple in the final ruling against Samsung, $382 million was related to the trade dress of the iPhone. Since that portion of the ruling has now been overturned, a jury will need to determine how much, if any, of that $382 million sum Samsung must pay Apple.

Apple, which still stands to collect $548 million in damages, said the decision remained a victory for the company.

"We are pleased the Federal Circuit Court of Appeal confirmed Samsung blatantly copied Apple products. This is a victory for design and those who respect it," Apple spokesperson Josh Rosenstock told BuzzFeed News. "Even though Samsung must pay for its widespread infringement of our patents, this case has always been about more than money. It's about innovation and the hard work that goes into inventing products that people love, which is hard to put a price on."

Samsung did not respond to a request for comment.