Patent litigation is perhaps an inevitable feature of the technology sector of our economy. Smartphones are a frequent subject of patent litigation, and some enormous lawsuits have resulted. A recent decision by a federal judge in California granted one smartphone manufacturer’s request for an injunction against another manufacturer in Apple, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. et al., No. 5:12-cv-00630, order (N.D. Cal., Jan. 18, 2016). The decision demonstrates how slowly the court system can move, since the technology at issue stopped being particularly relevant several years ago.
Patent protection is available for “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.” 35 U.S.C. § 101. An applicant for a patent must demonstrate that the invention or process is “novel” and that it is not “obvious” to a person with relevant occupational skills. Id. at §§ 102, 103. A patent owner can enforce their rights by filing a patent infringement lawsuit, which entitles them to monetary damages, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees. See id. at § 281 et seq.
Smartphones, which are mobile phones that include email, web browsers, and other functions, are the subject of numerous patents covering various functions. They have therefore also been the subject of multiple patent infringement claims. Perhaps the best-known patent infringement claim involving a smartphone pitted a patent-holding company against the manufacturer of the Blackberry, formerly one of the top-selling smartphones. The plaintiff claimed that the Blackberry’s email functionality infringed on its patent for a process combining email and wireless communication. Although it initially demanded damages of $1 billion, the case settled in 2007 for $612 million.
The recent California decision arises from a series of lawsuits filed by Apple against Samsung, based on their competing smartphone designs. Apple first sued Samsung in 2011, alleging infringement of various patents relating to its iPhone and iPad mobile devices. That lawsuit went to trial in 2012, and a jury found that 26 products manufactured by Samsung infringed Apple’s intellectual property rights. The case has been subject to multiple appeals and retrials on the question of damages, and the case is still pending.
In 2012, Apple filed a second lawsuit alleging infringement by an additional 18 products. Apple cited eight patents in its complaint, including one for “unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image” and one for a “method, system, and graphical user interface for providing word recommendations.” Users of smartphones might consider these to be standard features, but Apple claims that they are so similar on Samsung’s devices that they constitute unlawful copies of the patented processes, or that they dilute the value of the patents.
A judge agreed with Apple’s claims in a January 2016 ruling. She found that Apple would suffer irreparable harm if Samsung continued to manufacture, market, and sell the devices alleged by Apple to infringe its patents. She therefore issued a permanent injunction barring Samsung from producing, selling, or importing devices using the patented features. The devices specifically identified in the order date back to 2012 or earlier, and therefore they are not particularly popular in the 2016 economy.
For almost 40 years, business litigation attorney James G. Schwartz has advocated for businesses and business owners in the Bay Area in a wide variety of transactional and litigation matters. Contact us today online or at (925) 463-1073 to schedule an initial confidential consultation to see how we can help you and your business.
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