By Dennis Crouch
If the Apple-Samsung patent infringement lawsuit had been litigated back in 2005, the parties would have likely settled by now. Ebay changed that calculus and now an adjudged infringer such as Samsung can afford to push cases and appeals further because there is little downside risk that a US court will actually force the company to stop distributing its well known and respected products.
In an order on December 17, 2012, Judge Koh denied Apple's motion for permanent injunctive relief to stop Samsung from continuing to infringe Apple's patents and trade-dress. Thus, Apple must be satisfied with the payment of money damages. Although major, the ruling is not unexpected since based both on the law (eBay) and the fact that the court previously denied Apple's motion for preliminary injunctive relief based upon Apple's failure to prove irreparable harm.
In order to be eligible for injunctive relief the prevailing party must show that it will suffer irreparable absent an injunction. A key to current irreparable harm doctrine is proof of the nexus between the infringement and the irreparable harm. I.e., that infringement of the particular features or designs protected by the patent right (as opposed to some other factor) will cause the loss of market share. Unlike infringement and damages, the issues associated with injunctive relief are all seen as equitable issues and therefore decided by the judge rather than a lay jury.
Here, Apple alleged three irreparable injuries: "(1) loss of market share; (2) loss of downstream and future sales; and (3) injury to Apple's ecosystem." The court found apple had proven injury, but apple failed to prove the causal nexus between the particular adjudged infringing acts and the irreparable harm. As it turned out, Apple did not even present an analysis of alleged harm on a claim-by-claim or even a patent-by-patent basis. In considering this, the court found that Apple's had not proven that any of "its three [infringed] design patents covers a particular feature that actually drives consumer demand." The same problem existed with the utility patent that was found infringed. Rather Apple's proof was "simply too general."
Many factors go into making a product easy to use, but the features for which Apple is asserting patent protection are very specific. A consumer may want a phone that is easy to use, but this does not establish that a tap-to-zoom feature, for example, or any given type of gesture, is a driver of consumer demand. Thus, Apple's evidence of a survey showing the importance of ease of use as a general matter, PX 146.6, does not establish that infringement of any of Apple's patents caused any harm that Apple has experienced. To establish the required nexus, Apple must make a showing specific to each patented feature. This, Apple has not done.
Without establishing a causal nexus between the proven harm and the proven infringement there is no room for justifying injunctive relief. Therefore Judge Koh denied relief. Apple has an immediate right to appeal this decision to the Federal Circuit even as the district court continues to decide additional post-verdict motions. To be clear, this is a major win for Samsung, but Apple still has a right to appeal and is sitting on a $1 billion verdict.
The court has also released its reasoning for denying the Samsung motion for new trial based upon juror bias. The motion was based primarily on interviews given by the jury foreman (Velvin Hogan) after the verdict. Samsung alleged that Hogan was biased and had lied during voir dire. File Attachment: Apple_Samsung_New_Trial_Denied.pdf (130 KB).