The fierce, big-money patent fight between Apple and Samsung left the U.S. Supreme Court groping for a solution on Tuesday, as the justices puzzled over how to discern the value of individual design elements in a complex product like an iPhone.
The eight justices heard arguments in Samsung's bid to pare back $399 million of $548 million it paid Apple in December following a 2012 jury verdict finding that it infringed Apple's iPhone patents and copied its distinctive appearance in making the Galaxy and other competing devices.
The $399 million penalty stemmed specifically from Samsung's violation of three Apple patents on the design of the iPhone's rounded-corner front face, bezel and colorful grid of icons that represent programs and applications.
While the justices signaled a willingness to reduce the potentially huge penalties imposed for ripping off someone else's patented design, some expressed skepticism over how, in practice, juries could figure out the importance of a specific design trait in a product in order to calculate damages.
"If I were a juror, I wouldn't know what to do," Justice Anthony Kennedy said.
Several justices struggled with how they would devise a test for lower courts and juries to use to determine design patent damages.