Smartphone Design Patents: Samsung’s Quantity versus Apple’s Novelty

Envision IP reviews the US design patent holdings of the major mobile device manufacturers to better understand how each player may fare in future patent battles.

phones

Maulin V. Shah and S. Farhan Mustafa

November 15, 2012

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This past August, Samsung lost a $1 billion jury verdict against Apple in a case that involved Apple’s patents related to the design of its iPhone and rounded square corners on icons.  As smartphone patent litigation enters into the arena of designs related to device hardware, interfaces, and ergonomics, Envision IP analyzed the US design patent holdings of the major mobile device manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Apple, Sony, RIM, Motorola, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, HTC, and Ericsson) to understand which companies have made efforts to protect their smartphone and tablet designs.

Apple appears to have struck the first blow against Samsung, and in recent days it entered into a 10-year licensing deal with HTC that involves some of Apple’s design patents.  However, Samsung owns more than 5 times the number of US design patents than Apple related to mobile devices, smartphones, and tablets.  Forbes reported yesterday that Samsung is not following in HTC’s footsteps, and Samsung “does not plan to hold talks with Apple on settling their multi-jurisdictional patent war.”  Given its extensive patent portfolio, Samsung may be well positioned to launch design patent infringement claims of its own.

It is worth noting that LG also owns more US design patents in this area than Apple.

While design patents traditionally have not garnered much attention as compared to utility patents, the number of design patents issued to the major mobile device manufacturers doubled from 215 in 2006 to 487 in 2007.  This number drastically increased again the following year with 706 design patents issued in 2008.  Since 2009 however, the number of design patents issued has stabilized year over year between 350 and 450 for these mobile device manufacturers.  We expect this number to rise going forward given the recent focus of design patents in the courtroom.

Apple’s win and recent licensing deal suggest that while its has fewer design patents covering its products than Samsung and LG, Apple’s patented designs may be more unique and novel that those of its competitors.  It will be interesting to see how Samsung, LG, and others such as Sony, RIM, Nokia, and Google (via its Motorola patent acquisition) will leverage their own mobile device design patents either offensively or defensively as the smartphone patent battles continue to escalate.