Years after Apple started a long-running patent battle against Samsung, an injunction will become effective on February 17 prohibiting Samsung from continuing to infringe three Apple patents covering features relating to the ease of using smartphones. Until just recently, Samsung had thwarted Apple’s efforts to obtain both preliminary injunctions and permanent injunctions in two patent cases that Apple filed in April 2011 and February 2012.
In the 2011 case, Apple alleged that many Samsung smartphones and tablet computers infringed several design and utility patents. In December 2011, the district court denied Apple’s request for a preliminary injunction because the court determined that Apple failed to establish a connection—or causal nexus—between the alleged infringement and the alleged irreparable harm that injunctive relief would address.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit ruled that the district court correctly required “a showing of some causal nexus between Samsung’s infringement and the alleged harm to Apple.” The appellate court reasoned that “[i]f the patented feature does not drive the demand for the product, sales would be lost even if the offending feature were absent from the accused product.” Thus, the appellate court upheld the district court’s denial of injunctive relief.
After an August 2012 trial and a jury finding that more than twenty Samsung devices infringed one or more design and utility patents, Apple requested a permanent injunction barring importation and sale of all infringing devices. The district court decided, however, that Apple did not establish irreparable harm because Apple failed to show that the patented features drove consumer demand for the infringing devices. Consequently, the court denied Apple’s request for a permanent injunction.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit agreed that Samsung’s infringement of Apple’s design patents did not warrant injunctive relief. For Apple’s utility patents, however, the appellate court held that the district court gave insufficient weight to survey evidence that consumers would pay fairly significant price premiums for the patented features. So the appellate court vacated the injunction denial and remanded to permit the district court to reassess the evidence. On remand, the district court again denied Apple’s request for a permanent injunction because the court decided that the evidence did not establish a sufficient causal nexus between infringement and the alleged irreparable harm. So no injunction issued in the 2011 case.
In the 2012 case, Apple alleged that seventeen Samsung smartphones infringed eight different utility patents than asserted in the 2011 case. In July 2012, the district court issued a preliminary injunction against one of the accused smartphones, the Galaxy Nexus.
On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit overturned that decision because it determined that Apple did not show a sufficient causal nexus between infringement and the alleged irreparable harm.
After an April 2014 trial and a jury finding that nine Samsung smartphones infringed one or more asserted patents, Apple requested a permanent injunction. But in contrast to its request in the 2011 case, Apple did not seek to prohibit the importation and sale of all infringing devices. Instead, Apple sought a feature-based injunction against “software or code capable of implementing” any infringing features in the nine Samsung smartphones.
In August 2014, the district court decided that Apple failed to show that the infringing features drove consumer demand and declined to enter a permanent injunction.
On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit disagreed and vacated the denial of injunctive relief, returning the case to the district court for further proceedings.
On January 18, the district court granted Apple’s renewed request for a permanent injunction in light of the Federal Circuit’s decision. But the court stayed enforcement of the injunction for thirty days.
The injunction only impacts the Galaxy S3 and earlier smartphones that have largely disappeared from the market. The Galaxy S3 was Samsung’s flagship product in 2012. Samsung has moved several iterations beyond the Galaxy S3, now markets the Galaxy S6, and plans to launch the Galaxy S7 later this month.
So the injunctive relief that Apple finally obtained could be viewed as an empty victory. Nevertheless, the jury awarded Apple about $120 million as damages for infringement.