The Full Federal Court (Dowsett, Foster and Yates JJ) has allowed Samsung’s appeal from Bennett J’s decision and discharged the interlocutory injunctions against the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

On a first read, it looks like a “close run” thing. It also appears the grant of (interlocutory) injunctions for patent infringement in Australia may well be increasingly influenced in the future by the sorts of issues highlighted by the US Supreme Court in KSR v Teleflex (although that case was not referred to).

A factor which appears to have played high importance in the Full Court’s thinking was the recognition (by both parties) that the awarding of the interlocutory injunction in this case was effectively final relief:

49.   In the present case the parties accept that the orders made below are effectively final in that the commercial viability of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the Australian market will be lost. We doubt whether the grant of interlocutory relief in the present case avoids frustration of the Court’s process. When one keeps in mind that the Court must seek to do justice to both parties, such a consequence for Samsung can hardly be described as other than a frustration of the Court’s process. In our view, the task facing her Honour was not simply to grant or refuse an injunction. The task was to protect the Court’s process from frustration, as best as could be done in the circumstances, following the guidelines laid down by the High Court in the cases to which we will refer in the next section of these reasons. An “all or nothing” outcome was unlikely to produce that result.

Followed at [50]:

In this case, given the primary judge’s findings as to the merits of both parties’ cases and the even weighting attributed by her Honour to the relevant factors under consideration in her assessment of the balance of convenience, an arrangement which shared the risk of loss was the best that could be done to avoid frustration of the Court’s process, at least in the absence of any conduct by either party which effectively made it the author of its own misfortune. The question, then, was whether Samsung’s conduct in refusing an early trial on the conditions offered, together with whatever may be made of the “eyes wide open” factor and the fact that Apple relies on two patents rather than one leads to the conclusion that Samsung should be denied a trial on the merits. …. (emphasis supplied)

then [51]:

…. Where the merits and the question of convenience are fairly evenly balanced, there will be no injustice in requiring that the party seeking relief demonstrate good prospects of success before imposing almost certain prejudice on the other side.

The strength of Apple’s case

Apple argued that Samsung’s importation and sale of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 would infringe:

Claim 6 provided:

6. A touch panel having a transparent capacitive sensing medium configured to detect multiple touches or near touches that occur at a same time and at distinct locations in a plane of the touch panel and to produce distinct signals representative of a location of the touches on the plane of the touch panel for each of the multiple touches, the transparent capacitive sensing medium comprising:
a first layer having a plurality of lines that are electrically isolated from one another and formed from a transparent conductive material; and
a second layer spatially separated from the first layer and having a plurality of lines that are electrically isolated from one another and formed from a transparent conductive material, the second conductive lines being positioned transverse to the first conductive lines, the intersection of transverse lines being positioned at different locations in the plane of the touch panel, each of the conductive lines being operatively coupled to capacitive monitoring circuitry,
wherein the first layer and the second layer are disposed on two sides of an optically transmissive member.

On this part of the case, the question was whether or not either or both of 2 layers in the Galaxy Tab 10.1’s screen (described as layer D and layer E) satisfied the requirement of “an optically transmissive member”.

While not finally deciding the point, the Full Court considered that Apple’s case on this point was unlikely to succeed:

121.  It is sufficient for us to express the view that, on the present state of the evidence, there is a real and substantial prospect that the importation into and supply in Australia of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 will not infringe claim 6 of the Touch Screen Patent. We have referred to a number of difficulties that confront Apple in making good its case on infringement. It may well be that, on a final hearing, Apple will meet these difficulties. But difficulties they are. Whilst we would not be prepared to say that Apple’s case on infringement is not open to be argued, the difficulties to which we have referred do affect the assessment at the present time of the probability that, if on a final hearing the evidence remains the same, Apple will be found to be entitled to final injunctive relief for infringement of that claim. If Apple has established a prima facie case at all (which we doubt), it is founded upon a construction argument which, if the evidence remains as it is, is unlikely to succeed at trial.

On the other hand, Samsung’s case on the alleged invalidity of claim 6 equally fell short (of course, Samsung would not be liable for infringement if it holds the line on Apple’s positive obligation to prove the infringement):

  1. It is not necessary at this point to resolve the debate between the parties as to whether the reference in the Leeper Article about detecting the presence of “multiple fingers” is to multiple fingers at multiple locations or multiple fingers at a single contact point. It is enough to say that there is some reasonable degree of uncertainty about what the Leeper Article actually discloses in that regard. Moreover, even if one were to assume that the article is referring to the detection of multiple touches or near touches that occur at the same time and at distinct locations in a plane of the touch panel – which on the present state of the evidence would be a generous assumption – there is, importantly, no apparent disclosure in the Leeper Article that the ClearPad is configured to produce distinct signals for each of the multiple touches that are representative of the location of each of those touches.
  2. In our view it follows from that state of affairs that Samsung has not established a prima facie case that the Leeper Article anticipates the touch panel claimed in claim 6 of the Touch Screen Patent.

Samsung’s case on the “Mulligan patent application” was equally suspect: esp. [149] – [150].

The Heuristics patent:

1. A computer-implemented method, comprising:

at a computing device with a touch screen display,
detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display,

applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device; and

processing the command;
wherein the one or more heuristics perform the functions of:

determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one- dimensional vertical screen scrolling command rather than a two-dimensional screen translation command based on an angle of movement of the one or more finger contacts with respect to the touch screen display; and
determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a two dimensional screen translation command rather than a one-dimensional screen translation command, based on an angle of movement of the one or more finger contacts with respect to the touch screen display.

and

55. A computer-implemented method of any one of claims 1 to 26, wherein
the one or more finger contacts correspond to a finger gesture with an initial movement and a subsequent movement, and wherein
the function of determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command rather than a two-dimensional screen translation command includes identifying the entire finger gesture as the one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command and basing the determination on the angle of movement of the initial movement of the finger gesture, and wherein
the function of determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a two-dimensional screen translation command rather than a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command includes identifying the entire finger gesture as the two-dimensional screen translation command and basing the determination on the angle of movement of the initial movement of the finger gesture.

The issue here is whether or not the Galaxy Tab 10.1 employs gestures based on “the angle of movement”. According to the Full Court, there was no factual dispute between the parties about how gestures worked (or for those familiar with the “other” system, don’t):

155 There seems to be no dispute that, in the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the process for determining the relevant command is as follows. A first user contact on the screen is detected and an X (horizontal) channel and a Y (vertical) channel are generated around the touch point. The touch panel logic then identifies the location of the user’s second touch point at a pre-defined period of time after the first contact is detected. The location of the second touch point is then compared with the locations of the X and Y channels previously generated by the first touch. The software then interprets this as an instruction for screen movement, relevantly a one-dimensional screen scrolling command or a two-dimensional screen translation command, and then processes the command accordingly.

The Full Court considered it was “difficult to discern” Apple’s reading of its claims in this and so concluded that Apple had not established a prima facie case on infringement: [160].

Balance of convenience factors

The factors considered here were

  • whether Samsung had unreasonably refused a proposal for an early trial;
  • whether Samsung’s conduct in entering the market with its “eyes wide open” to the potential for infringement were disentitling; and
  • Apple’s reliance on 2 patents instead of 1.

As to the proposal for an early trial, the Full Court considered that the various proposals were too shifting, too limited and ultimately too unclear to be operative:

190.  …. Had the offer been of a final hearing on all issues, and had the time for preparation been reasonable, the position may have been otherwise. In the circumstances of this case we cannot see how Samsung’s conduct in refusing the offer of an early trial could properly be weighed in the balance of convenience. In those circumstances we consider that her Honour erred in principle by taking into account that irrelevant consideration.

The Full Court gave careful consideration to the “eyes wide open” contention, but concluded her Honour was right to give it little weight:

196.  …. Finally, in the present case, the most compelling features are the assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of the respective cases and the equality of likely detriment. Other considerations pale into insignificance beside those matters.

The Full Court could not see how asserting 2 patents rather than 1 put Apple in any better position (it might be interpolated: both with the issues identified above).

Samsung Electronics Co. Limited v Apple Inc. [2011] FCAFC 156

Lid dip: Peter Clarke