back to article Bin Apple's $500m patent judgment, US DoJ tells Supreme Court

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has recommended that the half-billion-dollar judgment awarded to Apple for iPhone patent infringement be thrown out. In an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court, the DoJ does not formally take sides but does recommend that a federal appeal court ruling that decided Samsung had illegally copied …

  1. redpawn Silver badge

    What am I missing?

    The government advocating a reasonable position, inconceivable. Is this payback for not cooperating with the FBI?

    1. Bob Vistakin
      Big Brother

      Re: What am I missing?

      My first thoughts exactly. Plus Google hedging their bets.

  2. ratfox Silver badge


    I actually agree with the opinion; it's just surprising that the US government would side with a foreign company against an American one. You have to wonder what's their motivation.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Wow

      Well, with most of Apple's money being held abroad, most of their manufacturing being done in China, most of their customers being non-US, and not really paying much tax in the US, just how 'American' is Apple anyway?

      If an 'American' company wants the full protection given by Uncle Sam that comes with being head-quartered there, then playing nicely (pay tax, create jobs, be a decent corporate citizen) would make it easy. But if you go to excessive lengths to not pay tax and make it generally harder for law enforcement then you're clearly of less economic value and it's unsurprising that Uncle Sam may have less enthusiasm for your corporate well-being.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wow

        Last time I looked, Apple was the biggest taxpayer in California.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Wow

          "Last time I looked, Apple was the biggest taxpayer in California."

          Doesn't that simply mean they're not as good at avoiding them as everyone else?

          But that's nothing - if Apple repatriated their profit they'd be paying Uncle Sam upwards of $70billion in tax. Instead they borrow money to pay a dividend and claim tax relief on the loan, using their foreign cash holdings as collateral. They cost US tax payers money; there's patriotism.

        2. John Bailey

          Re: Wow

          "Last time I looked, Apple was the biggest taxpayer in California."

          Funny how every time someone quotes an iFact, it is always accompanied by some kind of qualifier.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wow

      > it's just surprising that the US government would side with a foreign company against an American one. You have to wonder what's their motivation.

      Depends how you define American company. Samsung has invested 20 Billion USD+ in manufacturing plant and jobs in the US. Apple invests in Chinese plant and jobs and keeps its profits outside the US.

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Wow

      Could be common sense and justice.

      I'd be surprised if it was though!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wow

        Common sense would have been the Supremes accepting the patent part of the case and dismissing it on the grounds that it's ridiculous...... I suppose this is the beginning of a step in the right direction but leaves the fundamental stupidity untouched.

        In the interest of balance I should point out that I've never owned a Samsung or Apple smart phone and nor have I ever owned shares in either company or worked for them.

    4. DougS Silver badge

      Why do people assume it is all about where the company is based?

      The US courts / DoJ side with non-US companies against US companies all the time. Some amount of in-built bias towards US companies would only be natural, but it isn't like the rulings in Apple's favor are due to them being a US company. It because of the laws in the US, which differ from those in other places where rulings have gone against US companies.

      If Mercedes had a signature look to their doors that were unique to them and they had a design patent on the door design, and Ford copied it, the courts would rule in favor of Mercedes and against Ford. I'm not going to defend the patents in this case as "rounded corners" is pretty indefensible, but the courts did not find for Apple because they are in the US. We just have a screwy patent office.

      Such favoritism may happen in other countries, but it is not a part of the US court system.

  3. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

    This decision is ridiculous. Samsung should pay through the nose for copying such non-obvious elements as a rectangular display in a case with rounded corners.

    Me, I always thought that a pentagonal display made more sense, and I like my phone case to be triangular with spikes at the corners. Rounded corners are for those who like pants! ...And genitals.

    1. PNGuinn
      IT Angle


      Talking of genitals ...

      Enquiring minds etc etc ...

      And, more seriously, do you consider that this might result in the Supremes considering patents on codpieces with rounded corners?

      BRING IT ON.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Rounded corners with rectangular display were not an apple innovation

      There has been plenty of other devices, including telephones and PDAs that had this feature.

      Patents have always been an excuse to sue your competitors and since most are granted for ideas that are not new it would be easier to scrap the whole system and start from scratch with a system that only protects invention rather than recycling

    3. Phil W

      "I like my phone case to be triangular with spikes at the corners."

      It would certainly make those cases of celebrities throwing phones at their spouses/PAs far more interesting.

  4. Jeff Lewis

    "laws which were developed in the 19th century but on which billions of dollars of commerce are reliant"

    We like to call this kind of reasoning "Appeal to Novelty" and "Appeal to Ridicule". Your tacit assertion is 'anything old must be flawed' and worse, we rely on these flawed laws to run big expensive things (which, by the way, is "Appeal to Fear".)

    In fact, you've not established in any way that patent law is flawed - or if it is flawed, that those flaws are actually dangerous in this context.

    There certainly are aspects of patent law that are problematic in the 21st century (and for the record, the first patent law in the US was enacted April 10, 1790, so it's actually an *18th* century law - the horrors), but ironically, most of those problems we're seeing now actually stem from two relatively *recent* changes: the inclusion of software patents and the inclusion of 'business process' patents: two things almost no other country in the world has.

    As well, the movement of design and dress from trademarks and copyright to patent (again, a fairly recent change in patent law) just made things even worse.

    I appreciate you're probably British - but Americans are rather fanatically protective of their Constitution - the foundation of all their federal laws.. and it's really old.. 1779. Even older than the patent law. Then again, as a Brit - you've probably heard of that Magna Carta thing?

    15 June 1215

    So, let's can the 'old laws are bad' rhetoric. Laws are bad because they're bad, not because they're old. And just because you don't like the outcome of a law doesn't actually make it bad. A lot of the time laws are there to protect minorities from majorities... not surprisingly, majorities don't like them.

    1. veti Silver badge

      I think you're reading the wrong subtext, and therefore delivering the wrong rant.

      El Reg is generally very pro-IP, and I don't see anything in this article to suggest a variation from that stance. So it's probably not meant to imply "old laws are bad" at all, it's more like "tried and tested".

    2. localzuk

      Yeah, wrong rant. The fight is not against patents in general. Its against the specific notion of "design patents". Patents that cover the "look" of something.

      They really are an anachronism, especially in the technology world.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "...but Americans are rather fanatically protective of their Constitution - the foundation of all their federal laws.. and it's really old.. 1779..."

      Old, and junk. The way power is divided between executive, legislative and judicial branches - it's no way to run a country, otherwise you end up with something like the current political bankruptcy of the US system. This can largely be put down to the way the US constitution makes it very hard for anyone do anything when it's necessary to do something because it's better for a politician's career to be obstructive, not cooperative. Cooperate with the Democrats? That's the fast way for a Republican to lose their next election. And the same vice versa.

      Result - politicians are mostly there simply to absorb the salary, not actually make a real difference, with obstruction being better for their career advancement than cooperation.

      Take note that an anti-establishment figure as crude as Trump is doing so well in the polls. His message - essentially that he's going to clean the stables on Capitol Hill - is also very anti US constitution. He probably cannot achieve that unless the constitution is changed to make it possible. His popularity - surprising as it is - can be taken as a subconscious plea from Americans for constitutional reform. Oh I don't doubt that each and every single one of his supporter is very pro-Constitution (it's been drummed into them from birth), but they're not going to get what they want unless it's changed. [And given some of his crazier promises, that's probably a good thing...].

      That's what politicians get when they argue pointlessly and obstructively about law and policy; voters become disillusioned, and someone like Trump will rise to the top very quickly. Want to stop that happening? Change the way power is divided between the branches of government so that inter-party cooperation is no longer required, so that the winning party essentially has complete control. That's the way the entire rest of the world works.

      Good luck to us all, we'll need it.

      Apologies for the lengthy political diatribe during your cornflake hour.

      1. Sean Timarco Baggaley

        Trump is "popular"...

        ...for very small values of "popular".

        He is popular with some elements of the Republican Party. Democrats (and many career Republican Party members) can't stand the man, but I can't deny he has a gift for self promotion and wearing invisible clothes.

        The problem with the US Constitution and Bill of Rights is that they're treated as holy gospel, rather than some opinions of some slave-owning landowners. (Sometimes, I wonder just how many US citizens actually understand the meaning of the word "amendment". The v1.0 release didn't even include that oft-quoted* "right to bear arms" bit.)

        It's also worth nothing that another country rather closer to the UK effectively copied and pasted it into their own constitution. That country is Switzerland. If you ever wanted to know what the men who drafted that document actually intended, I suggest taking a closer look at the Swiss political system.

        As for the obstructionism: this is inherent in the nature of the legal system in use. The US inherited the UK's Statute Law system, which starts from the principle that everything is legal unless a law decrees otherwise. Banning something therefore requires adding new laws, increasing the number of laws on those statute books and making life just that little bit more complicated for the legal profession.

        By contrast, most continental European nations use the Roman (a.k.a. "Napoleonic") System, which takes the opposite starting point: all things are illegal unless a law states otherwise. Thus banning something in France or Spain merely requires deleting the laws that allow it. Unlike the UK and US, this tends to make the nation's body of laws smaller.

        (This is one of the less-publicised problems with the UK has had with the EU: Most EU members use the Roman System, so simplifying their laws makes sense. This means EU Directives tend towards banning things as, for most member states, that means removing laws from their books, not adding to them. But the UK has to add reams and reams of pages to its groaning statute books every single year to keep up with these changes. The two systems are fundamentally incompatible.)

        In both systems, there are often unexpected consequences and corner cases that complicate matters, which is why good lawyers get paid so much. In the UK and US, laws are refined over time by judicial precedent: a judge makes a decision in a case and, if that decision sets a legal precedent, it is effectively treated as part of the related laws and used to decide similar cases in future. (As the UK and US legal systems are so closely related, it's not unusual for a judgement made in the UK to also be used as a precedent when deciding similar cases in the US.)

        The upshot of all this is that Statute Law systems tend towards bloat. As legal systems are the closest things our societies have to an operating system, this is not a good thing. Even lawyers agree on this. (The relevant bit is towards the end. It's a fascinating programme.)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      " fanatically protective of their Constitution "

      So much that they keep on changing it to reflect changes in society (13th, 19th), to improve the democratic system (17th, 24th) etc

    5. IT veteran

      The US Constitution was not adopted until 1789. I think you are thinking of the Articles of Confederation, which were so good they were replaced 8 years later...

      As to Magna Carta, it was an agreement between the Barons and the King. The majority of people were ignored. Its only later Jurisprudence which has put it on its pedestal. King John revoked it almost immediately (with the support of the Pope), and it was only issued in modified form under his successor as he needed Baronial support against a French invasion. If John had lived and defeated the Barons, it would be a footnote in history

  5. kain preacher Silver badge

    Since the DOJ has over sight of all law enforcement agencies, I'm thinking this is pay back.

  6. Tim99 Silver badge

    Please stop Calling it a "Patent"

    It is a "Design Patent" US design patent: Wikipedia link "An object with a design that is substantially similar to the design claimed in a design patent cannot be made, used, copied or imported into the United States. The copy does not have to be exact for the patent to be infringed. It only has to be substantially similar."

    Which is close to a UK "Registered Design" link "You can register the look of a product you’ve designed to stop people copying or stealing it." The look of your design includes the: appearance; physical shape; configuration (or how different parts of a design are arranged together); decoration".

  7. hayzoos

    Attack the patent

    A single bad patent doesn't make a patent system bad. Attack the bad patents. If a lot of patents are found bad, then the system or it's implementation is bad.

    Argue that rounded corners are a functional element not design. Argue that the function of rounded corners in such an application as a smartphone is the same as the function of rounded corners on numerous handheld devices (there are plenty of functional reasons to round the corners). Functional rounded corners are not a new invention and does not merit a patent award. Awarding a design patent to a functional element steps on the purpose of functional patents.

  8. Steve 129

    Because round corners are obviously 100% of the product

    "unclear if Samsung had produced sufficient evidence to support its fraction argument"

    Ermm... so round corners are 100% of the product hence Samsung should pay 100% of the proceeds?

    OooooKaaaaayyyyy !!

  9. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Bin Apple?

    They terrorists now?

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