In June 2012, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California enjoined Samsung's Galaxy Nexus smartphone because it likely infringed Apple's 8,086,604 patent (the "'604 patent") and because Apple was likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction. Apple prevailed at the district court level based on claim 6 of the '604 patent -- which is practiced by Siri, Apple's popular voice search companion.
Independent claim 6 is directed to an apparatus for "unified search" using heuristic modules to search multiple data storage locations. As explained by the Federal Circuit, "[u]nified search refers to the ability to access information on more than one data storage location through a single interface. For example, a device equipped with unified search allows the user to search the local memory of the device as well as the Internet by entering a single search query."
Claim 6 provides:
6. An apparatus for locating information in a network, comprising:
An interface module configured to receive an inputted information descriptor from a user-input device;
A plurality of heuristic modules configured to search for information that corresponds to the received information descriptor, wherein:
each heuristic module corresponds to a respective area of search and employs a different predetermined heuristic algorithm corresponding to said respective area, and the search areas include storage media accessible by the apparatus; and
a display module configured to display one or more candidate items of information located by the plurality of heuristic modules on a display device.
Apple alleged that the quick search box ("QSB") of the Galaxy Nexus is a unified search feature that infringed claim 6. The Federal Circuit explained: "QSB is a feature of Android, an open-source mobile software platform developed by Google, Inc. Any software developer may use Android to create applications for mobile devices, and any handset manufacturer can install Android on a device."
In reversing the grant of the preliminary injunction, the Federal Circuit focused on the issue of irreparable harm and determined that the causal nexus between the harm alleged and the alleged infringing conduct was not sufficient. "It is not enough for the patentee to establish some insubstantial connection between the alleged harm and the infringement and check the causal nexus requirement off the list. The patentee must rather show that the infringing feature drives consumer demand for the accused product."
In reaching this conclusion, the Federal Circuit noted that Apple's evidence was limited and was based primarily on the demand for Siri and not QSB in the Galaxy Nexus. "Apple has presented no evidence that directly ties consumer demand for the Galaxy Nexus to its allegedly infringing feature. Apple rather makes a case for nexus circumstantially, based on the popularity of an iPhone 4S application called Siri. Advertised by Apple as an 'intelligent personal assistant,' Siri enables iPhone 4S users to speak their commands to the phone in a natural and conversational tone. There is no dispute that this highly popular feature is a significant source of consumer demand for the iPhone 4S. There is also no dispute, however, that the Galaxy Nexus does not have a feature equivalent to Siri."
The Federal Circuit then noted that: "[t]he causal nexus requirement is not satisfied simply because removing an allegedly infringing component would leave a particular feature, application, or device less valued or inoperable."
With that standard in mind, the Federal Circuit explained that "[t]o establish a sufficiently strong causal nexus, Apple must show that consumers buy the Galaxy Nexus because it is equipped with the apparatus claimed in the '604 patent--not because it can search in general, and not because it has unified search."
Finally, the Federal Circuit concluded that "[t]his record does not permit the inference that the allegedly infringing features of the Galaxy Nexus drive consumer demand. There is therefore no need for us to review the district court's assessment of Apple's allegations of irreparable harm. Regardless of the extent to which Apple may be injured by the sales of the Galaxy Nexus, there is not a sufficient showing that the harm flows from Samsung's alleged infringement."
Accordingly, the Federal Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion in holding that the irreparable harm factor favored entry of an injunction.
Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., Case No. 2012-1507 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 11, 2012)