It's been a rough year for Samsung, but the Supreme Court just gave the company a big early Christmas present... or at the very least, they denied one to Apple. Reuters reports that the highest court decided unanimously (8-0) that the $399 million in damages sought by Apple in the years-old iPhone design patent case was too much, siding with Samsung's appeal which said that copying only certain elements of the iPhone design patent didn't entitle Apple to all profits made from an infringing phone.

In fact all of that money and more has already been paid to Apple - the South Korean manufacturer made a $548 million payment in December of last year as a result of the original case, decided in favor of Apple way back in 2012. (Yes, we've been talking about this design patent lawsuit for over four years now - the original round of lawsuits in over a dozen countries began in 2011.) Samsung appealed the specific amount on the basis of "article of manufacture," successfully arguing that the entire phone (and the revenue and profit made from its sale) couldn't be held as damaging when only part of its design infringed on the patent. The Supreme Court Justices did not go so far as to give a definition or test for the article of manufacture, leaving that lengthy and detailed process to the federal appeals court, where the lawsuit will now return. You can read the full decision by Justice Sotomayor here (PDF link).

Samsung has successfully chopped the initial $1.05 billion damage ruling in half over the last few years. And now... who knows. At least a portion of that $399 million figure does belong to Apple - Samsung's guilt in the case was established years ago - but exactly how much might take another year, or two, or three, to determine. If you're a fan of endless litigation arguments and ridiculously minute examinations of patent documents, you'll be happy to know that this case isn't going away any time soon.

Image source: Flickr/Kārlis Dambrāns