Addressing the requirement of a “causal nexus” relating the alleged harm to the alleged infringement for a preliminary injunction, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned the district court, holding that “[t]he casual nexus requirement is not satisfied simply because removing an allegedly infringing component would leave a particular feature, application, or device less valued or inoperable.” Rather, the Court held that the party seeking the preliminary injunction must show that the infringing feature drives consumer demand for the accused product. Apple v. Samsung Electronics, et al., Case No. 12-1507 (Fed. Cir., Oct. 11, 2012) (Prost, J.).
On appeal from one of the less-publicized cases in the Apple v. Samsung (or as some suggest, Apple v. Google) global litigation, the Federal Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion in entering a preliminary injunction enjoining sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone. At issue was the Quick Search Box (QSB), a feature of Google’s open-source mobile software platform Android, used in the Galaxy Nexus device. Apple alleged that the QSB infringed its patent that is directed to an apparatus for unified search that uses heuristic modules to search multiple data storage locations.
The Court explained that if the accused product includes many features, only one of which (or only a small minority which infringe), the patentee must show that a sufficiently strong causal nexus relates the alleged harm to the alleged infringement. Disagreeing with the lower court’s endorsement that the causal nexus may be established if removing the patented features would diminish the value or substantially interfere with the functionality of the accused device, the Court explained that to establish a sufficiently strong causal nexus, Apple had to show that the infringing feature drives consumer demand for the accused product—i.e., that consumers buy the Galaxy Nexus because it is equipped with the apparatus claimed in the patent in suit and not simply because the device has a search capability in general, or even because it has unified search capability.
Apple presented evidence that consumers of the iPhone 4S liked the Siri application in part because of Siri’s comprehensive search (which Apple asserts practices the subject patent). However, the Federal Circuit considered the analogous extension of consumer attraction to the Galaxy Nexus due to QSB to be too tenuous a causal link between the alleged infringement and consumer demand. The Court likewise found the evidence of consumer praise for the Galaxy Nexus’ QSB feature, cited by the district court in support of a causal nexus, to be insufficient to support an inference that the allegedly infringing features drive consumer demand.
As a result, the Court concluded that regardless of the extent to which Apple may be injured by sales of the Galaxy Nexus, there was not a sufficient showing that the harm flows from Samsung’s alleged infringement to warrant an injunction.