Apple Inc. won an appeals court ruling that may force Samsung Electronics Co. to stop using some features in its smartphones and tablets.
A U.S. appeals court said Apple was entitled to a narrow order that prevents the Korean handset maker from using Apple’s technology. To rule otherwise would eliminate patent rights of inventors of certain features in multicomponent devices, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said in an opinion posted on its electronic docket.
The decision could have far-reaching consequences in how disputes are resolved when it comes to complex devices. The ability to block use of an invention is a powerful tool that increases the price tag when negotiating settlements.
Apple won a trial ruling that Samsung infringed its patents for the slide-to-unlock, autocorrect and quicklinks features. Even so, the trial judge declined to issue an order forcing Samsung to remove those features from its mobile phones, saying monetary damages would be adequate. Apple argued that, if it weren’t able to control use of its inventions, it may lose market share and its reputation as an innovator.
“The right to exclude competitors from using one’s property rights is important,” the Federal Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision. “And the right to maintain exclusivity -- a hallmark and crucial guarantee of patent rights deriving from the Constitution itself -— is likewise important.”
Google Inc., HTC Corp., LG Electronics Inc. and Rackspace Hosting Inc. were among the companies backing Samsung in its arguments. They argued in a filing with the court that a victory for Apple could allow a patent owner “to unfairly leverage its patent for competitive gain.”
The specific features had an impact on customer decisions to buy products, and that should be considered when determining whether to block use of an invention, the court said.
Samsung told the appeals court in March that none of its current models use two of the patents, and only a single product still has the autolink feature, so there’s no hardship on it, the court ruled.
“The public generally does not benefit when that competition comes at the expense of a patentee’s investment- backed property right,” the court ruled. “This is not a case where the public would be deprived of Samsung’s products. 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.”
Samsung is appealing the underlying infringement verdict as well; that case is pending before the Federal Circuit.
The case is Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Inc., 14-1802, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington). The lower court case is Apple v. Samsung, 12cv630, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose).
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