Apple v. Samsung (Fed. Cir. 2015)
This portion of the saga focuses on Judge Koh’s refusal to award a permanent injunction against Samsung to prevent that company from continuing to infringe Apple’s slide-to-unlock patents. See U.S. Patent Nos. 5,946,647; 8,046,721; and 8,074,172. Judge Koh reasoned that Apple had not shown that it would suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief.
In a split decision, the Federal Circuit has rejected the lower court’s holding – vacated and remanded.
Apple was able to show lost sales and other market harms due to Samsung’s competing sales – but the core of the fight is whether those harms are being caused by infringement of the patents in question. I.e., is there a “causal nexus” or proof of “some connection between the patented features and the demand for the infringing products.” The district court’s error here (according to the panel) was that it required apple to prove that the infringing elements were the sole or primary drivers of the infringing sales.
Thus, in a case involving phones with hundreds of thousands of available features, it was legal error for the district court to effectively require Apple to prove that the infringement was the sole cause of the lost downstream sales. The district court should have determined whether the record established that a smartphone feature impacts customers’ purchasing decisions. Though the fact that the infringing features are not the only cause of the lost sales may well lessen the weight of any alleged irreparable harm, it does not eliminate it entirely. . . .
Walking through some of the evidence, the appellate panel found that Samsung’s copying of infringing features was evidence of a causal nexus as was willful infringement. From the consumer viewpoint, the court identified evidence that consumers preferred infringing setup to non-infringing designs. And finally, Apple’s internal evidence showed that it saw the infringing features as critical aspects of the iPhone.
Given the strength of the evidence of copying and Samsung’s professed belief in the importance of the patented features as a driver of sales, and the evidence that carriers or users also valued and preferred phones with these features, the district court erred by disregarding this evidence, which further establishes a causal nexus and Apple’s irreparable harm.
Bringing this together, the court writes:
In short, the record establishes that the features claimed in the ’721, ’647, and ’172 patents were important to product sales and that customers sought these features in the phones they purchased. While this evidence of irreparable harm is not as strong as proof that customers buy the infringing products only because of these particular features, it is still evidence of causal nexus for lost sales and thus irreparable harm. Apple loses sales because Samsung products contain Apple’s patented features. The district court therefore erred as a matter of law when it required Apple to show that the infringing features were the reason why consumers purchased the accused products. Apple does not need to establish that these features are the reason customers bought Samsung phones instead of Apple phones—it is enough that Apple has shown that these features were related to infringement and were important to customers when they were examining their phone choices. On this record, applying the correct legal standard for irreparable harm, Apple has established irreparable harm.
On remand, we can expect Judge Koh to issue an injunction to stop Samsung’s ongoing infringement.
The following are a few key excerpts from the three decisions:
Judge Moore (Opinion of the Court):
The right to exclude competitors from using one’s property rights is important. And the right to maintain exclusivity—a hallmark and crucial guarantee of patent rights deriving from the Constitution itself—is likewise important. “Exclusivity is closely related to the fundamental nature of patents as property rights.” Douglas Dynamics, LLC v. Buyers Prods. Co., 717 F.3d 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2013),. And the need to protect this exclusivity would certainly be at its highest when the infringer is one’s fiercest competitor. Essentially barring entire industries of patentees—like Apple and other innovators of many-featured products—from taking advantage of these fundamental rights is in direct contravention of the Supreme Court’s approach in eBay. (“[E]xpansive principles suggesting that injunctive relief could not issue in a broad swath of cases . . . cannot be squared with the principles of equity adopted by Congress.”). . . .
If an injunction were not to issue in this case, such a decision would virtually foreclose the possibility of injunctive relief in any multifaceted, multifunction technology.
Judge Reyna (Concurring Opinion): Judge Reyna’s opinion is a strong push-back against eBay – arguing that infringement should create a presumption of irreparable harm:
I write to add that I believe Apple satisfied the irreparable injury factor based on Samsung’s infringement on Apple’s right to exclude and based on the injury that the infringement causes Apple’s reputation as an innovator. There is no dispute that Samsung has infringed Apple’s right to exclude and, absent an injunction, it will likely continue to do so. I believe that such a finding satisfies the irreparable harm requirement because the infringement is, in this case, “irreparable.” On reputational injury, the roles are reversed: it is undisputed that such an injury is irreparable; the question is whether this injury will likely occur. As I explain below, I believe that the record here—particularly the toe-to-toe competition between Apple and Samsung, Apple’s reputation as an innovator, and the importance of the patents-in-suit to that reputation—establishes that Apple will likely suffer irreparable harm to its reputation.
Chief Judge Prost in Dissent:
This is not a close case. One of the Apple patents at issue covers a spelling correction feature not used by Apple. Two other patents relate to minor features (two out of many thousands) in Apple’s iPhone—linking a phone number in a document to a dialer, and unlocking the screen. Apple alleged that it would suffer irreparable harm from lost sales because of Samsung’s patent infringement. For support, Apple relied on a consumer survey as direct evidence, and its allegations of “copying” as circumstantial evidence. The district court rejected both evidentiary bases. On the record of this case, showing clear error in the district court’s factual findings is daunting, if not impossible.
If I were you, I’d read this decision: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/14-1802.Opinion.9-15-2015.1.PDF