It’s Apple Season: Federal Circuit Court Rules for Apple in Patent Dispute, Requiring Samsung to Change Some of Its Technology Features

Emily Harrison, MJLST Editor-in-Chief

This month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit gave Apple its latest victory against its biggest competitor, Samsung. In May 2014, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied Apple’s motion for a permanent injunction to bar Samsung from using software or code tending to infringe patented features in Apple’s products. However, on September 17, 2015, the court in Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., No. 2014-1802, 2015 WL 5449721 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 17, 2015), held that the lower court abused its discretion in failing to grant Apple the permanent injunction, and remanded the case to the lower court for reconsideration of the motion.

The current dispute between the competitors surrounds Apple’s patents covering its slide-to-unlock, autocorrect, and data detection features. The federal circuit notes that Apple has invested billions of dollars in introducing the iPhone. To decrease the risk associated with its large investments, Apple has applied for and received patents for much of the technology it has developed in the iPhone, including the features at issue. Furthermore, Apple filed a motion seeking permanent injunction that would bar Samsung from “making, using, selling, developing, advertising, or importing into the United States software or code capable of implementing the infringing features in its products.” The federal circuit found that Apple established a “causal nexus” between irreparable harm and Samsung’s infringement such that there was “some connection between infringing features and demand for competitor’s products,” Apple suffered irreparable harm, Apple lacked adequate remedy at law, and both the balance of hardships and public interest favored the injunction.

In determining the consequences of this decision, the court emphasizes the narrowness of this injunction: “This is not a case where the public would be deprived of Samsung’s product. Apple does not seek to enjoin the sale of lifesaving drugs, but to prevent Samsung from profiting from the unauthorized use of infringing features in its cellphones and tablets.” The court was also convinced that Samsung could remove the patented features without recalling products or disrupting customer use. Although the injunction is arguably narrow, the court’s decision may have a broad impact on product differentiation requirements with respect to complex technology. The federal circuit’s decision also signals a greater willingness to protect patent rights of inventors in the face of a key market rival.