The ruling means that Samsung is not liable for all $399 million awarded to Apple in a previous lower court ruling for infringing on Apple's iPhone design. That figure represented profits from 11 Samsung smartphone models.
The dispute began in 2011, when Apple sued Samsung for copying design features of its devices, including, among other things, its colorful grid of app icons. Two lower courts ruled in Apple's favor on design-patent infringement.
That penalty is based on a federal law that says that a party copying and applying a patented design to "any article of manufacture" is liable "to the extent of his total profit."
Samsung countered that the penalty is disproportionate. Specifically, the South Korean giant says Apple is not entitled to total profits from the entire phone, but only the profit from the components that infringe.
The court agreed that focusing only on the end product sold to consumers was "too narrow." The terms of the law are broad enough to include either the profits of the final product sold to consumers, in the case of a simple product like a dinner plate, or a component of the product, in a more complicated product like an oven.
The justices in their 8-0 ruling sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.
"The question before the Supreme Court was how to calculate the amount Samsung should pay for their copying," Apple told CNBC of the ruling. "Our case has always been about Samsung's blatant copying of our ideas, and that was never in dispute. We will continue to protect the years of hard work that has made iPhone the world's most innovative and beloved product. We remain optimistic that the lower courts will again send a powerful signal that stealing isn't right."
— Reuters, The Associated Press and CNBC's Josh Lipton contributed to this report.