Thursday, October 11, 2012

Federal Circuit reverses Nexus injunction for lack of a nexus and doubts about infringement

Due to a lengthy but truly interesting Microsoft v. Motorola Mobility court hearing in Munich, I am a few hours late with my commentary on today's decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to reverse the preliminary injunction against the Samsung-Google Galaxy Nexus smartphone that Apple had won in late June.

This injunction was never really enforced -- at least not for a sufficient period to have business impact. Apple only had a window of opportunity of a very few business days before the Federal Circuit ordered a stay. That's not enough since resellers will have had sufficient quantities of this product in their warehouse to meet immediate demand. You can find the procedural history of the stay in this post.

Even if the injunction had been enforced for more than a few days, Samsung would only have have to do avoid further infringement of the particular patent based on which it was granted: U.S. Patent No. 8,086,604 on a "universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system". This is a Siri-style unified search patent.

The Federal Circuit's reversal of Judge Koh's decision has two elements. The primary basis for this reversal is that the appeals court saw an abuse of discretion in Judge Koh's determination that Apple established a sufficient causal nexus between the alleged infringement and the irreparable harm it claimed to suffer. The appeals court agreed with Samsung that Apple had to show not only that the iPhone 4S is bought by many customers because of Siri but also that the functionality covered by the '604 patent truly drives sales of the Galaxy Nexus (which in turn harm Apple). If the Nexus infringed this patent but was bought by customers for different reasons, then the infringement wouldn't be causally-connected to Apple's potential loss of market share.

If this was the only item on which the appeals court disagrees with Judge Koh, Apple would have at least one more chance to win a Nexus injunction (or an injunction against other Samsung products based on the same patent). But the Federal Circuit additionally addressed a claim construction issue -- the meaning of "each" in a particular context -- and concluded that Apple is not likely to prevail on its infringement claim.

With the Federal Circuit having so much doubt about the merits of Apple's infringement theory, the '604 unified search patent actually becomes a candidate for dismissal from Apple's second California lawsuit against Samsung. Note that the Nexus injunction resulted from that second California action, which Apple brought in February 2012, ten months after the original Samsung lawsuit that went to trial in August 2012.

Apple's best shot at obtaining injunctive relief against Samsung will be a December 6 hearing on its motion for a permanent injunction based on the liability findings at this summer's trial. The Galaxy Nexus is not among the exemplary infringing products accused in that action, but Apple is seeking an open-ended injunction that will affect not only the specifically-named products that infringed a while ago but also any newer ones that have substantially the same infringement pattern.

It's very difficult to obtain injunctive relief in the U.S., but Apple will certainly keep trying. And it may increasingly try to win injunctions in jurisdictions with lower hurdles.

On a related note, Apple today won a stay of Samsung's two Korean standard-essential patent injunctions.

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