Apple and Samsung rang in the new year right where they ended last year, in federal court, resuming their years-long patent litigation over smartphones. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court expressed skepticism over several Apple claims, such as its “quick link” and “pinch-to-unlock” patents. But this week’s hearing was just a sidebar in a larger story. 

In December, Samsung appealed to the Supreme Court to resolve a distinct and particularly interesting question. The immediate concern is whether Samsung, under an 1887 law, must give Apple the “total profits” from sales of smartphones that contained a couple of minor contested patents. The larger import, however, could be to head off a new strategy of patent trolls, who are always searching for ways to exploit our complex intellectual property system.  

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