By Andrew M. Ollis
| October 25, 2017
On October 22, 2017, Judge Lucy Koh ordered a new trial on design patent damages in the long-running dispute between Apple and Samsung playing out its latest chapter in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Case No. 11-CV-01846-LHK, ECF No. 3530 (“Order”).

After the U.S. Supreme Court held that an “article of manufacture” in 35 U.S.C. § 289 (damages provision specific to design patents) could apply to either an article sold to a consumer or a component of the product, the case was remanded to determine whether a new trial was needed on the $399 million award Apple had obtained for Samsung’s infringement of several design patents.

As part of her analysis, Judge Koh also had to determine a new test for design patent damages under Section 289. Rejecting the tests offered by both Apple and Samsung, Judge Koh adopted the government’s suggestion, stating in conclusion:
The test for determining the article of manufacture for the purpose of § 289 shall be the following four factors:
• The scope of the design claimed in the plaintiff’s patent, including the drawing and written description;
• The relative prominence of the design within the product as a whole;
• Whether the design is conceptually distinct from the product as a whole; and
• The physical relationship between the patented design and the rest of the product, including whether the design pertains to a component that a user or seller can physically separate from the product as a whole, and whether the design is embodied in a component that is manufactured separately from the rest of the product, or if the component can be sold separately.
The plaintiff shall bear the burden of persuasion on identifying the relevant article of manufacture and proving the amount of total profit on the sale of that article. The plaintiff also shall bear an initial burden of production on identifying the relevant article of manufacture and proving the amount of total profit on the sale of that article. If the plaintiff satisfies its burden of production on these issues, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to come forward with evidence of an alternative article of manufacture. Order at 35.

Judge Koh also observed that the government’s test had largely been adopted by the one other court confronted with the same question. Order at 21, citing Jury Instructions at 15-16, Columbia Sportswear N. Am., Inc. v. Seirus Innovative Accessories, Inc., No. 3:17-cv-01781-HZ (S.D. Cal. Sept. 9, 2017), ECF No. 378. 

A new trial is expected in May 2018.  Interestingly, both parties indicated they could generally accept the government’s test (see Order at 13-14, 20), suggesting that each side believes the test is sufficiently flexible to support their point of view. As with all developments in this case, the trial will be closely watched, and another appeal is all but certain absent settlement.
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