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Appeals Court Opens Door for Apple to Force Samsung to Change Products

The court says Apple was entitled to an injunction banning Samsung from using features such as slide-to-unlock and autocorrect in its products.

A federal appeals court ruling Thursday opens the door for Apple to block Samsung from using certain features on its smartphones and tablets.

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Apple is entitled to an injunction that would bar the Korean device maker from using technology the Cupertino company patented: The slide-to-unlock feature on a touchscreen device, automatic correction of spelling errors and a feature known as quick-linking, which allows a user to touch a phone number within a text message to place a call.

In a trial last year, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh denied Apple’s request that Samsung be barred from selling phones and tablets using the features, finding that Apple had failed to show it would suffer irreparable harm without such a ban.

Apple appealed, saying the district court got it wrong when it failed to recognize that Apple would lose market share and sales from Samsung’s infringement.

Getting injunctions, as opposed to monetary awards, has always been especially important to Apple, which has said its primary goal with the litigation has been to have Samsung steer away from what Apple sees as copying its technology.

In the trial involving these particular features, Apple won a $119.6 million damage award in May 2014 when a jury found Samsung had infringed on key patents. By the time the decision was reached, Samsung had already wrested a significant share of the U.S. smartphone market from Apple.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sided with Apple in a 2-1 ruling. The judges found that Koh’s court should have evaluated whether certain features of a smartphone influence consumers’ buying decisions. It was a legal error for the lower court to reject evidence that unique features drive phone sales — and that infringement causes irreparable harm.

“Apple does not need to establish that these features are the reason customers bought Samsung phones instead of Apple phones — it is enough that Apple has shown that these features were related to infringement and were important to customers when they were examining their phone choices,” the court wrote.

The appeals court found that the district court “abused its discretion” by failing to stop Samsung’s infringement, and it ordered more proceedings consistent with its opinion.

“Apple has been injured and, absent an injunction, that injury will likely continue,” wrote Judge Jimmie V. Reyna in a concurring opinion.

Apple has been trying since 2011 to stop Samsung from copying its iPhone and iPad, obtaining earlier injunctions banning the sales of the Galaxy Tab tablet and the Galaxy Nexus phone. However, it has had limited success in keeping the Korean electronic manufacturer’s products off the market.

In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Koh court had “abused its discretion” in issuing an injunction barring sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone, saying the link between infringing features and consumer demand was too tenuous.

Update: Apple reiterated its comment from last May:

We are grateful to the jury and the court for their service. Today’s ruling reinforces what courts around the world have already found: that Samsung willfully stole our ideas and copied our products. We are fighting to defend the hard work that goes into beloved products like the iPhone, which our employees devote their lives to designing and delivering for our customers.

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