Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Friday, October 31, 2014

Apple v. Samsung: The Lesson We May Have Learned from the Jury Trial

Since 2010, Apple and Samsung, the two smart phone titans who combined over 45% of the market share, have clashed in a legal war on a scale rarely seen in business history. Their billion dollar patent lawsuit was undoubtedly the most famous patent case of the 21st century thus far.  On August 24, 2012, the jury of the Apple v. Samsung trial in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Samsung infringed on Apple’s patents and ordered Samsung to pay over one billion dollars in damages. But given the complexity of the case, which involves, among other things, construing claim language of several cutting-edge high-tech patents, many commentators cast doubt on whether the jury of the case truly understood the complicated factual issues to make an informed decision. This article skims through the key issues of the trial and demonstrate the current patent trial system maybe flawed because it is almost impossible for a lay jury to make well-founded decision for such complex cases.

A little background of the jury panel first: Among the nine jurors who decided the Apple v. Samsung case, one member had prior experience with patents. Only four of them owned a smartphone and three owned tablets. Although the jury panel was not composed of jurors who are tech fanatics, they are certainly not tech novices either. Five of the nine jurors worked for IT companies and one juror is even a patent holder.

During the trial, the jury was first tasked to make decisions on whether the Apple patents are valid (aka, not predated by prior art).  The question of prior art is a difficult one—since most inventions are derived from existing ones, the jury first needs to determine whether the patent at issue has novel attributes that are not the same as those derived from existing inventions. Sometimes the difference can be very subtle to distinguish even for persons having ordinary skill in the art. Moreover, even a novel feature is found. the patent must also be non-obvious. The obviousness question confounds even seasoned patent attorneys because it must be determined in light of the patent filing date, meaning that the invention must have been non-obvious at the time the invention was made.  One juror on the panel actually admitted that the jury skipped the prior art question and moved on to the infringement questions because it is too formidable of a job for them to apply the entire abstract legal analysis rather than making a decision based on their intuition. 

Subsequently, the jury needed to decide whether Samsung’s products infringed Apple’s patents. And if the jury found that there was infringement by Samsung, then it must determine the amount of monetary damages that should be awarded to Apple to remedy this infringement.  The jury was asked to fill a verdict form that included 700 questions regarding patent infringement. The whole process of filling the lengthy verdict form took the jury about twenty-one hours. After the jury turned the jury form into the court, the judge found a misapplied damages totaled nearly two million dollars. The implications of these facts are staggering: either the case is too complicated to the extent that mistakes are unavoidable, or that by not answering the fundamental questions of Apple’s patent validity, the jury had already decided Samsung has infringed Apple’s patent regardless of whether Apple was actually entitled to those patents.

Perhaps what we have learned from the case is that when the facts or jury instruction become so complicated, the jury may simply go with their gut feeling, rather than using evidence to decide the issue. And when patent dispute become so sophisticated, juries are not the best means for fact-finding. In fact, in Japan, the Tokyo High Court established the Intellectual Property High Court of Japan (“IP High Court”) in 2005 to serve as a special branch of the High

Court, with exclusive jurisdiction over intellectual property matters. South Korea, much like Japan, has a specialized Intellectual Property Tribunal. The German patent system even has different courts to handle infringement and validity matters separately. Therefore, it may be time for the U.S. to consider establishing a special patent court to render more predictable and accurate decisions for patent cases. 

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