(CN) - Apple may deserve an injunction against Samsung as to certain utility features, such as Apple's patented "double-tap-to-zoom" function, the Federal Circuit ruled.
Apple and Samsung have been locked in a bitter - and worldwide - patent dispute since 2011 when Apple claimed that the South Korean company "slavishly copied" the iPhone and iPad to produce the Galaxy line of mobile phones and tablets. Cupertino-based Apple filed a second suit the next year, accusing Samsung of flooding the market with more copycat products likely to confuse consumers.
The first trial ended with a jury awarding Apple more than $1 billion in damages, but U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh quickly halved that figure after faulting jurors for not following her instructions. After a retrial on damages from the first go-round, a new jury handed Apple another $290 million this past November.
Apple asked the court after the trial to permanently enjoin Samsung from selling 26 of its "copycat" smartphones and tablets, but Koh denied the motion.
A three-judge panel with the Federal Circuit affirmed only in part Tuesday.
"We reject Apple's arguments and confirm that the district court was correct to require a showing of some causal nexus between Samsung's infringing conduct and Apple's alleged harm," Judge Sharon Prost wrote for the panel.
Apple failed to demonstrate it would suffer irreparable harm from Samsung's infringement on its design patents, the court said.
Apple fared better, however, as to its utility patents, including the "bounce-back" feature for when a user hits the end of a document or webpage, its "double-tap-to-zoom" feature, and "pinch-to-zoom" feature, which allows a user to manipulate a document with multi-touch commands.
The lower court should have considered an Apple expert's survey evidence that consumers are willing to pay more for a phone that includes Apple's patented features, the court found.
"We see no reason why, as a general matter of economics, evidence that a patented feature significantly increases the price of a product cannot be used to show that the feature drives demand for the product," Prost wrote. "This is not to suggest that consumers' willingness to pay a nominal amount for an infringing feature will establish a causal nexus. For example, consumers' willingness to pay an additional $10 for an infringing cup holder in a $20,000 car does not demonstrate that the cup holder drives demand for the car. The question becomes one of degree, to be evaluated by the District Court."
The court also affirmed denial of an injunction against Samsung's trade-dress dilution since the company has stopped selling the infringing products.
In a separate reversal, the appellate court revived bids from Apple and Samsung to seal various confidential exhibits.
"While protecting the public's interest in access to the courts, we must remain mindful of the parties' right to access those same courts upon terms which will not unduly harm their competitive interest," Prost wrote for the same panel.
A second Apple-Samsung trial is slated to begin March 31.