Federal Circuit Gives Samsung Another Victory Against Apple In The Smartphone Patent War

Update: On March 21, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Samsung’s certiorari petition regarding a separate patent (a design patent and related trade dress registration for the design elements of the iPhone).  The Court agreed to review a limited question regarding the types of damages available in such cases: “Where a design patent is applied to only a component of a product, should an award of infringer’s profits be limited to those profits attributable to the component?”

In another twist of fortunes in the long-running smartphone patent war between Apple and Samsung, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has once again overturned Apple’s patent infringement jury verdict – this time for $119.6 Million – against Samsung. The Court left intact Samsung’s small $158,400 verdict against Apple.

The case was initially filed by Apple in February 2012, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that Samsung infringed eight of Apple’s patents used on the iPhone. Not to be outdone, Samsung countersued alleging that Apple had infringed eight of its patents used in Samsung’s Android smartphones.

After a series of trial rulings and appeals, the parties conducted a 13-day trial and the jury awarded $119.6 million to Apple based on a finding that Samsung had infringed Apple’s “structures,” “slide to unlock,” and “autocorrect” patents. Samsung was not nearly as successful, with the jury awarding it a mere $158,400 in damages for the infringement of its “camera systems” patent.

Though Apple won the trial court battle, on appeal, the Federal Circuit has granted ultimate victory to Samsung, finding that Apple’s “slide to unlock” and “autocorrect” patents were invalid (and therefore not patentable) because the evidence indicated that the inventions would have been “obvious” to a person having ordinary skill in the art, in light of the publically available information at the time the inventions were made. The Court also reversed the jury’s decision that Samsung had infringed Apple’s “structures” patent based on a technical finding that the patent required the use of a “analyzer server” and Apple failed to present sufficient evidence to allow a jury to conclude that the Samsung software met this “analyzer server” limitation. Apple has a small chance of turning the wheel of fortune back if an en banc Federal Circuit agrees to hear the case or if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to grant certiorari.

As this case demonstrates, fortunes can be won and lost on appeal and, as such, it is critically important to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each case even after a jury verdict is rendered.

For more information regarding patent litigation and appeals or the Court’s Federal Circuit’s decision, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Director of the firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Group at keinhorn@genovaburns.com, or Jennifer Borek, Esq., a Partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation Group at jborek@genovaburns.com.

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A Recent Folly by General Mills Exemplifies the Need to Consider the Business Consequences of All Legal Decisions

Before a legal decision is employed, it must be thoroughly vetted from multiple perspectives (including a determination of whether the decision comports with the company’s business goals).  Otherwise, unintended business consequences could overshadow the intended benefits of a legal decision.  A recent misstep by General Mills exemplifies this concept.  General Mills, like many other American companies, prefers to resolve consumer disputes through cost-effective negotiations and arbitrations – as opposed to engaging in traditional litigation.  Accordingly, General Mills recently rolled out a new policy that required all customers who used its website, subscribed to its email newsletters, downloaded or printed a digital coupon, entered a sweepstakes or contest, and/or redeemed a promotional offer to settle their disputes with General Mills “by informal negotiations or through binding arbitration.”

Although it is uncertain whether such a policy would even be upheld if it were challenged in court, what is clear is that General Mills did not anticipate the negative business consequences brought on by this seemingly innocuous legal policy revision.  Indeed, shortly after the policy change was made public, the New York Times ran an article (entitled “When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue”, Stephanie Strom, April 16, 2014) questioning the propriety of General Mills’ new policy.  This New York Times article led to a significant consumer backlash against General Mills, which ultimately caused the company to retract its revised policy.  In a blog post entitled “We’ve listened – and we’re changing our legal terms back” General Mills apologized to its customers, stating that: “We’re sorry we even started down this path.  And we do hope you’ll accept our apology.”

Just as General Mills learned, every legal decision must be evaluated from various angles in order to ensure, among other things, that the decision is consistent with your company’s business goals.  It is much better to make this determination at the onset rather than having to backtrack from unexamined decisions that could ultimately cost your company significant money and goodwill down the road.

At Genova Burns, we stand at the intersection of law, government, and business and pride ourselves on always evaluating decisions from numerous perspectives to ensure that our clients receive the highest quality legal advice.  For more information about how Genova Burns can assist your company in achieving its legal, business and political goals, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Director of Complex Commercial Litigation.

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