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Fresh From the Bench: Precedential Patent Cases From the Federal Circuit

October 7, 2016

Overview

Apple alleged infringement of five of its smartphone patents, and Samsung countersued for infringement of two of its patents. After a jury trial, the district court entered a judgment awarding Apple $119,625,000 in damages and ongoing royalties. In a February decision, a panel of the Circuit reversed the denial of Samsung's motion for JMOL of non-infringement as to the principal patent in suit, determining that Apple failed to prove that the accused Samsung products use a so-called “quick links” feature that permits users to quickly click on phone numbers and other links, rather than having to copy and paste. The Circuit also reversed the denial of JMOL of invalidity of two of Apple's patents, directed to the iPhone’s “slide to unlock” and “autocorrect” features, rejecting Apple’s arguments as to secondary considerations such as commercial success and praise from Apple users.

In an en banc decision, with three separate dissents, the Circuit reinstates the district court judgments as to the three patents in suit, holding that the jury verdict on each issue is supported by substantial evidence and the district court did not err when denying Samsung’s JMOLs. The Circuit notes that it granted Apple’s en banc petition to affirm its understanding of the appellate function as limited to deciding issues raised on appeal by the parties, “deciding these issues only on the basis of the record made below, and as requiring appropriate deference be applied to the review of factual findings.” According to the majority, the Supreme Court made it clear in Teva v. Sandoz that findings of fact [there relating to claim construction] “are indisputably the province of the district court.”

The majority notes that the panel reversed nearly a dozen jury fact findings including infringement, motivation to combine, the teachings of prior art references, commercial success, industry praise, copying, and long-felt need across three different patents. It did so despite the fact that some of these findings were not appealed and without ever mentioning the applicable substantial evidence standard of review. And with regard to objective indicia, it did so in ways that departed from existing law.

In dissent, Judge Dyk raises questions about how aspects of the obviousness doctrine ought to operate, but the majority notes that no party—at the panel or the petition for rehearing en banc stage—invited the Circuit to consider changing the existing law of obviousness. The case was taken en banc to affirm the Circuit’s understanding of its appellate function, to apply the governing law, and to maintain its fidelity to the Supreme Court’s Teva decision.

Given the length of the opinion, we have not attempted to edit it down to our normal two or three pages, but the full opinion does make for interesting reading.

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