To establish a sufficiently strong causal nexus to constitute irreparable harm, consumer demand must be directly tied to the allegedly infringing feature.

On February 8, 2012, Apple Inc. brought suit against several Samsung entities, alleging that Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone infringes eight patents, including U.S. Patent No. 8,086,604 (the “‘604 patent”) and seeking a preliminary injunction. The independent claim of the ‘604 patent is directed at an apparatus for “unified search.” Unified search refers to the ability to access information on more than one data storage location through a single interface. Apple alleged that Samsung’s Quick Search Box, which is the unified search application of Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, infringes claim 6.

The district court granted Apple a preliminary injunction, enjoining Samsung from selling its Galaxy Nexus smartphone. Samsung appealed. Only the ‘604 patent was at issue on appeal. At the outset, the Federal Circuit granted Samsung’s motion for a temporary stay of the injunction, expedited the appeal, and in that light held in abeyance Samsung’s subsequent motion for a stay pending appeal.

The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the district court had abused its discretion in entering an injunction enjoining the sales of the Galaxy Nexus. At issue on appeal was whether the district court’s decision to grant injunctive relief based on its analysis of the likelihood of success and irreparable harm was proper.

The Federal Circuit first addressed whether Apple had established a clear showing of irreparable harm. The court held that the district court abused its discretion in determining that Apple had established a sufficient causal nexus. The relevant question under the causal nexus inquiry is to what extent the harm resulting from selling the accused product can be ascribed to the infringement. Here, Apple’s evidence of causal nexus is limited. Apple presented no evidence that directly ties consumer demand for the Galaxy Nexus to its allegedly infringing feature — unified search. The record did not otherwise permit an inference that the allegedly infringing features of the Galaxy Nexus drive consumer demand. For these reasons, the court reversed.

A copy of the opinion can be found here.