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The long running patent battle between Apple and Samsung (now in year four) won't be ending anytime soon. Though a federal court had found that Samsung violated Apple's "slide to unlock" and auto-linking patents, it also refused to enjoin Samsung from selling those patent infringing products. According to the court, Apple simply couldn't show that Samsung's patent infringing features were harming its sales.
That was the wrong standard, the Federal Circuit ruled. Apple didn't have to show that a Galaxy phone's slide to unlock feature was directly connected to a loss of sales. A simple loss of sales due to Samsung is enough. Samsung will likely be forced to pull those phones from the market as a result of the ruling.
Infringing features were found in several popular Samsung phones, including Samsung's "Galaxy" line of smartphones. However, in district court, Judge Lucy Koh refused to enjoin Samsung's sales of the devices on the basis that Apple had not shown a "causal nexus" between patent infringements and its claimed harms. Apple simply couldn't show that a swipe to unlock feature caused consumers to switch from an iPhone to a Samsung phone.
That, however, was too demanding of a test, the Federal Circuit ruled. "In a case involving phones with hundreds of thousands of available features," Judge Kimberly Moore wrote, "it was legal error for the district court to effectively require Apple to prove that the infringement was the sole cause of the lost downstream sales." Rather, all the court should have considered was whether Samsung's infringing features impacted consumer purchasing decisions.
Here, the court found that there was just such evidence. According to the court, the record establishes that the patented features "were important to product sales and that customers sought these features in the phones they purchased." It's not the strongest evidence of irreparable harm, but it will do.
The court's opinion was not unanimous. Judge Moore was joined by Judge Jimmie Reyna, who argued that infringement alone is irreparable harm sufficient to support an injunction. Both Moore and Reyna were met with a strong dissent by Judge Sharon Prost, however.
"This is not a close case," Prost wrote. The patents were for minor features and the only direct evidence Apple had of harm was a simple consumer survey, along with circumstantial evidence of "copying." The district court rejected that evidence of harm and showing error in those findings "is daunting, if not impossible."
The case now returns to Judge Koh, who is expected to enjoin sales of infringing Samsung phones.
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