A US appeals court on Monday reversed part of a $930 million verdict that Apple Inc won in 2012 against Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, saying the iPhone maker's trademark-related appearance could not be protected.
In a highly anticipated ruling stemming from the global smartphone wars, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., upheld the patent infringement violations found by a federal jury in a court in San Jose, California, as well as the damages awarded for those violations.
Out of the $930 million judgment against Samsung, the appeals court ordered the court in San Jose to reconsider the $382 million portion awarded for trade dress dilution.
Trade dress is a legal term for a trademark on the way a product is packaged or presented. As part of its case, Apple had accused Samsung of diluting its brand and connection with customers by copying the look of its phones.
The appeals court said the features Apple sought to trademark were not eligible for this kind of legal protection because they relate to the functioning of the phone. To grant such protection would give Apple a monopoly on these features forever, the court said.
The 2012 trial was widely watched between the two smartphone titans. The jury found Samsung violated several Apple patents, including those related to iPhone's design and appearance.
Apple was eventually awarded $930 million in damages, but failed in 2013 to convince U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to ban the sale of the infringing Samsung phones, which are now no longer on the market.
Some observers viewed the litigation as Apple's attempt to curtail the rapid rise of phones using Google Inc's rival Android operating software. Samsung and Apple have since dropped their legal battles, except for another case pending in the same appeals court involving a $120 million verdict in 2014 for Apple on separate smartphone patents.
Samsung said in its appeal that the damages award was excessive and unprecedented. The company argued it should not be forced to pay such a high price for making a "rectangular, round-cornered, flat-screened, touch-screened phone," calling those features "basic."
Apple countered that Samsung was trying to downplay its "shameless copying" of the iPhone design to increase its market share.
Neither company could immediately be reached for comment on Monday's decision.
The case is Apple Inc v Samsung Electronics Co, Ltd, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 14-1335.