Good news and bad news for Apple

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In the latest round of the patent litigation involving Apple and Samsung, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled that a lower district court should have granted an injunction prohibiting Samsung from selling devices that infringed Apple’s patents. The Federal Circuit decided by a 2:1 majority that Samsung would be able to sell its devices without the features in issue protected by Apple’s patents. These features included the autocorrect function, lock screens and data detection applications. In the words of majority, “This is not a case where the public would be deprived of Samsung’s products. Apple does not seek to enjoin the sale of lifesaving drugs, but to prevent Samsung from profiting from the unauthorised use of infringing features in its cell phones and tablets”. The majority considered that the balance of hardships and public interest militated strongly in favour of granting the injunction.

The background to the dispute is that Apple sued Samsung in 2012 for patent infringement and was awarded $119 million in damages. Apple then sought a permanent injunction in respect of the infringing products. In support of its application, Apple adduced survey evidence showing that US consumers would not have bought the infringing products if they did not have the patented features. That application was refused, although the majority of the Federal Circuit, on appeal, criticised that decision as flawed saying it was “predicated on incorrect understanding of the nature of the causal nexus requirement”. The Chief Judge disagreed with the majority, ruling that the District Court had made no legal error in refusing to grant the injunction, an opinion which Samsung has latched on to, stating that it intends to seek a review of the Federal Circuit’s decision.

Closer to home, Apple has been less successful. In Germany, Apple’s slide-to-unlock European patent has been declared invalid by the Federal Court of Justice (Germany’s highest court). In this case, the opposition to the grant of the patent was brought by Motorola. The Federal Court ruled that the subject matter of the patent was not patentable under Article 52(1) of the European Patent Convention because it did not involve an inventive step. Specifically, a Swedish company, Neonode, had beaten Apple to it, having invented a slide-to-unlock gesture system before the iPhone was launched.  Similar decisions have been reached in other European jurisdictions including the UK, leaving the United States as the only jurisdiction where that particular patent is still valid.