Apple's second California case against Samsung-- filed in 2012, about 10 months after the first Apple v. Samsung complaint--has turned out to be a non-starter. As I predicted in early January based on the official recording of the appellate hearing, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has thrown out the 2014 district court ruling in Apple's favor (which was already a major disappointment for Apple, as Apple got only about 5% of the roughly $2.5 billion it originally wanted).
The Federal Circuit opinion is available here (PDF).
Here's my takeaway:
It's a humiliation for Apple. I'm not happy to say so because I actually think very highly of Apple's in-house and outside counsel. But the outcome (which this decision is, though I guess Apple will petition for a rehearing) couldn't have been worse. Apple has lost its offensive case 100%, but Samsung's symbolic win (over one of two counterclaims) has been upheld.
As a result, Apple will have to pay Samsung a few million dollars in damages and actually a lot more in litigation costs. The Federal Circuit opinion says "costs to Samsung." That could be tens of millions of dollars in the end, depending on whether Apple will suffer the fate of other litigants who have brought claims without merit. Some of the cost reimbursement will then be passed on to Google, which paid for parts of Samsung's defense.
By now, 18 judges in four countries (adding the three members of the Federal Circuit panel to the 15 European judges who ruled on a patent from the same family before) have held that Apple's slide-to-unlock mechanism, however good the idea was from a usability point of view, simply isn't a patentable invention. The only judge among the 19 who ruled on this patent who thought iw as valid: Judge Lucy Koh.
Judge Koh can only hope that Republicans (who may be inclined to oppose her nomination, by a lame-duck failed president, in any event) won't take a close look at her track record in the highest-profile litigation she presided over. That track record is not very good. I don't mean to suggest that the Federal Circuit is always right, and in the injunction context the Federal Circuit presented kind of a moving target, but the fact that she, unlike all of her 18 colleagues who looked at slide-to-unlock, deemed it a valid patent is nothing for her to be proud of. (Of course, the Ninth Circuit doesn't hear patent cases.)
I also believe she handled the situation concerning the '647 patent the very wrong way. After the Federal Circuit affirmed (right before the 2014 trial) Judge Posner's claim construction, it was crystal clear to me that Apple no longer had a case over that patent. I made it very clear at the time. I never understood why Judge Koh didn't throw out that patent, period.
I've said this many times and I'll repeat it here: Apple should finally put an end to this Samsung litigation. The entire "thermonuclear war" on Android was a bad idea. Yes, there was a time when I thought Apple (and others) could win this. At some point, however, I drew the necessary conclusions from what happened (and, even more so, what didn't happen). That "earned" me some conspiracy theories on discussion boards even though I honestly didn't believe in Apple's second California case at the time of the 2014 trial.
On March 4, the Supreme Court will discuss Samsung's cert petition regarding design patents, which is support by the IT industry at large, 37 IP law professors, and various advocacy groups.
Apple can do better than this. It's high time this amazing company recognized one of its biggest errors.
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