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What investors need to know about the Supreme Court term starting Monday

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
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The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

A still "short-handed" U.S. Supreme Court will kick off the 2016-17 term in October with arguments on cases involving insider trading and the long-running "patent wars" between Samsung and Apple — issues front-and-center to investors and the business community.

Oct. 5, insider trading

In Salman v. United States, the high court must decide: Does a person who leaks inside information have to receive a tangible personal benefit for someone who trades on the tip to be liable for insider trading?

Two years ago, a ruling from the New York–based Second Circuit in United States v. Newman "raised the bar" for what prosecutors must prove and overturned insider trading convictions of two former hedge fund managers — putting the brakes on investigations by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The Supreme Court refused to review that New York ruling.

However, a California case used a lower standard of proof — the Ninth Circuit held it is enough that the insider and the tipee shared a close family relationship, to uphold an insider-trading conviction. Now the High Court is being asked to resolve the differences.

Its decision will have a major impact on insider-trading enforcement for years to come.


Oct. 11, Samsung v. Apple

Samsung and Apple will take their longtime battle over smartphone patents to the Supreme Court. At issue is just how much Samsung should pay Apple for infringing on iPhone patents used in Samsung smartphones. Samsung has already paid Apple $584 million. It wants damages limited to the value of the three components at issue. Apple wants damages for the full value of the Samsung products sold.

Google and Facebook have sided with Samsung. More than 100 designers are backing Apple.

It's the first test of a design patent law that dates back to the 19th century. A decision by the Supreme Court could have a ripple effect across the technology industry and it could finally define the value of design work.

Oct. 31, copyright protection

The justices will close out the month of October with a case that involves copyright protection for cheerleading outfits. In Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, the justices will have to examine if, and how, parts of a piece of clothing can have copyright protection, such as stripes and patterns on cheerleading uniforms.

Overall this term, the Court will hear significant cases involving property rights, a state's exclusion of churches from a grant program and the president's ability to fill vacancies without Senate approval, in addition to the possibility of taking up cases involving bathrooms and transgender high schoolers, the Washington Redskins' trademarks and yet another challenge to President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

Thirty-one cases are already on the docket, and more will be added starting on Monday.

One more for Redskins fans

The Court agreed to decide whether a federal law barring trademarks on racial slurs violates free speech rights in a case involving an Oregon band called The Slants that could impact the high-profile dispute over the name of the NFL's Washington Redskins.

The justices said they would hear the Obama administration's appeal of a lower court ruling last year that sided with the Portland-based Asian-American rock band in its free-speech challenge to part of the 1946 law governing federal trademarks.

— NBC News contributed to this report.