In the last century, Samsung has grown from a small Korean business to an influential multinational corporation. It is now one of the leading electronics companies prevalent in the world. As successful as Samsung has become, it has also met with its fair share of issues. In recent years, the increase in competition between Apple and Samsung cell phones has caused some tensions between the two corporations. It led to Apple suing Samsung in a case which was decided in 2012. Apple, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 678 F.3d 1314, 1316 (2012). Apart from Samsung’s rivalries, they have also faced more recent issues with their products; namely the spontaneous exploding of the Galaxy Note 7 phones. These legal issues could have dire consequences for the appeal of future Samsung phones.
In 2012, Apple sued Samsung for infringing upon seven different patents. These patents included design and utility infringements, which is the look of the device and the features involved, respectively. Id. at 1317. Samsung was found guilty of violating six of these patents, but willfully infringing upon five of them. Bosker, Apple-Samsung Lawsuit: What You Need To Know About The Verdict, Huffington Post (2012), (last visited Feb. 1, 2017). These included three utility features, such as zooming in by pinching, and two design components, such as the square gridding on the iPhone screen. Id. One design component relating to the exterior of the phone was not willfully infringed upon. Id. In retaliation, Samsung filed a counterclaim accusing Apple of infringing patents as well. However, the court rejected these accusations. The case ended with Samsung owing Apple $1.05 billion in damages. Elmer-Dewitt, Apple v. Samsung Damages Retrial: The Definitive Q&A, Fortune (2013), (last visited Feb 1, 2017).
Since the decision of that case in 2012, there were injunctions by Apple to stop Samsung’s sales of certain products and appeals by Samsung to lower the damages the company must pay. All of this led to the case of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., et al. v. Apple Inc. being granted certiorari to the Supreme Court. Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc., 137 S.Ct. 429, 431 (2016). Samsung was not appealing the victory of Apple in the original case, but rather the cost of damages that they were expected to pay. Id. Prior to the Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit Court affirmed damages of $399 million. Id. Samsung had argued that it was not the entire phone which infringed upon patents, and therefore only the parts of the phones which did infringe upon the patents should be used to calculate the damages. Id. However, the Federal Circuit rejected this idea because the phone is sold as a whole and not as separate parts. Section 289 of the Patent Act is also brought up and it states that it is “unlawful to manufacture or sell an ‘article of manufacture’ to which a patented design or a colorable imitation thereof has been applied and makes an infringer liable to the patent holder ‘to the extent of his total profit.’” 35 U. S. C. §289.
In what had been deemed a landmark patent case from the beginning, Samsung v. Apple was decided by the Supreme Court on December 6th, 2016. Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc., 137 S.Ct. 429, 431 (2016). They reversed and remanded the decision to the Federal Circuit Court, which could mean less damages for Samsung. Id. at 431. The court was unanimous in holding that where the Patent Act reads ‘article of manufacture’ could mean the specific components of the phone that were infringing on the patents, and not necessarily the whole phone itself. Id. at 432. Samsung still has a chance for lower damages, which would be a win for them in this controversial case.
Meanwhile, 2016 saw the Galaxy Note 7 battery fire issue arise, causing further trouble for Samsung. In September 2016, the phones spontaneously started to catch fire. Cell phones injured users. Initially, Samsung issued replacements of the phones to people who were having issues. When Samsung realized that it was a problem in all the phones and it was more serious than they had anticipated, they issued a total recall. Samuelson, A Brief History of Samsung’s Troubled Galaxy Note 7 Smartphone, Time (2016), (last visited Feb. 1, 2017). By October, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), issued an emergency total ban of Samsung Note 7s on aircrafts. DOT Bans All Samsung Galaxy Note7 Phones From Airplanes, FAA (2016), (last visited Feb. 1, 2017). Only recently did Samsung explain that the issue with the battery was lack of proper insulation. Mozur, Galaxy Note 7 Fires Caused by Battery and Design Flaws, Samsung Says, New York Times (2017), (last visited Feb. 1, 2017). There have been class action lawsuits filed in Canada and the United States. People are suing for negligence, product liability, and even economic injuries which occurred from the mishandling of the recall situation which resulted in customers still being charged for the phone on their plans. Klein, After Galaxy Note 7 Recalls, Samsung Faces Class-Action Suit Claim, NBC New York (2016), (last visited Feb 1, 2017). However, all the cases are still pending approval from judges. It is unknown whether any of the lawsuits have made any progress yet. Complaint, Waudby v. Samsung Elecs. Am., Inc., D.N.J. (2016) (No. 2:16-cv-07334-CCC-JB), unofficial report. The next few months are critical for Samsung, as the existing complaints are likely to be joined by additional lawsuits relating to the Galaxy Note 7 battery fires.