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Apple (Finally) Enjoins the Sale of (Obsolete) Samsung Phones

In the latest development in the patent skirmishes between Apple and Samsung, on Monday, January 18, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California entered a permanent injunction barring Samsung from selling certain smartphone models within the United States due to their infringement of three Apple patents. The decision comes on the heels of the recent reversal by the Federal Circuit in September 2015 of Judge Koh’s earlier decision to deny Apple’s requested injunction (see our alert on that decision here). Even after obtaining a 2014 jury award of $119 million against Samsung, Apple could not persuade Judge Koh to stop the sale of the infringing smartphones.

This week, Apple finally got its desired result. Following the Federal Circuit’s opinion concluding that Apple should have received an injunction on the facts presented at trial, Judge Koh enjoined Samsung from selling nine models of smartphones. The software running on these nine phones infringed three asserted patents, which claimed novel rapid Internet links, slide-to-unlock feature, and automatic word correction. Notably, the most recent Samsung device affected by the injunction is the Galaxy S3, which was Samsung’s flagship back in 2012. Samsung is currently gearing up to release the Galaxy S7 phone this spring, a phone four iterations newer than the Galaxy S3. The enjoined S3 model is already difficult – if not impossible – to find in most retail stores, and most of the other affected phones are no longer available in the U.S. market. 

Some commentators are calling the injunction an “empty” victory for Apple, due to the injunction’s applicability only to obsolete Samsung phones. For its part, Samsung emphasized that the decision “will not impact American consumers,” but also griped that it was “another example of Apple abusing the judicial system to create bad legal precedent which can harm consumer choice for generations to come.” The ongoing war between Apple and Samsung remains a flashpoint in the high tech industry, underscoring its love-hate relationship with the U.S. patent system. For example, many large technology companies, such as eBay, Facebook, and Google, have sided with Samsung in its fight with Apple and are among those trying to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to step into the fray.  

With the Federal Circuit’s binding precedent in place, hopefully the next time an injunction is warranted as a remedy, it can be entered within a timeframe that will make it meaningful for the plaintiff.  The larger issue remaining to be clarified is for what parties and under what circumstances will the trial court issue an injunction. More expansive availability of the remedy of injunction, beyond a small cohort of high-tech giants in disputes over directly competing goods, would be a positive step forward for the health of the U.S. patent system.

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James Wodarski is a Mintz trial attorney who concentrates his practice on intellectual property litigation. Jim represents clients in federal district and appellate courts. He handles disputes involving smartphones, core processor circuits, digital imaging software, and other technologies.
Andrew H. DeVoogd is a patent litigator and trial attorney whose practice encompasses a wide range of technologies. He represents major technology companies in International Trade Commission investigations, and shares his insights on Mintz's IP Viewpoints.

Daniel Weinger