Jury's haste takes shine off Apple's victory

Tue Aug 28, 2012 11:13pm IST

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(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

By Reynolds Holding

NEW YORK, Aug 28 (Reuters Breakingviews) - The jury’s haste takes some of the shine off Apple’s (AAPL.O) patent victory. The seven men and two women on the California panel ignored instructions, miscalculated damages and generally seemed more eager to wrap up the case than get it right. That could help Samsung (005930.KS) overturn the $1.1 billion verdict or avoid a ban on some U.S. device sales. Even if it doesn’t, the case reveals how legal complexity muddles the smartphone wars.

The Korean company’s lawyers caught two of the decision’s more obvious blunders. Jurors, who returned a judgment in less than 24 hours despite receiving over 100 pages of instructions and 700 questions to answer, said Samsung should pay $2.2 million for certain actions despite finding no actual infringement.

The mistakes were fixed, but nevertheless raise eyebrows about just how jurors calculated the total award covering six patents and 28 devices. A troubling clue came when the group’s foreman told Reuters they wanted the judgment to be “painful.” Lawsuit awards, however, are supposed to compensate patent holders, not punish infringers. The judge explicitly said as much in at least two instructions to the jury.

Damages in patent cases are notoriously slippery, as Richard Posner, a U.S. judge, stressed in another recent case involving Apple and Motorola. Rather than allow the companies to press multi-million-dollar infringement claims at trial, he threw out the case, finding economic harm too speculative. Apple’s claims against Samsung may have more substance, but the spotty performance by jurors provides little assurance their damages figure was accurate.

It’s unclear whether any of this ultimately helps Samsung. To overturn the judgment, it must show that no reasonable jury would have reached the verdict. That’s a tough standard, though the goofs suggest others may emerge and persuade Judge Lucy Koh to cut the award.

Alternatively, she could triple the damages. She could also prohibit U.S. sales of certain Samsung devices, though she would first have to conclude that payments aren’t enough to compensate Apple.

As in most smartphone cases, the issues are tricky and will take months to resolve. Unfortunately, the jury didn’t help matters by cutting out so quickly on Friday.

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CONTEXT NEWS

- Apple asked a federal judge on Aug. 27 to temporarily prohibit U.S. sales of eight Samsung mobile devices pending a decision on a permanent injunction in the patent case. The request follows an Aug. 24 jury verdict that found the Korean electronics giant had violated patents covering the iPhone and iPad and awarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages.

- Reuters: Apple seeks quick bans on eight Samsung phones [ID:nL3E8JR2N6]

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(Editing by Jeffrey Goldfarb and Emily Plucinak)

((reynolds.holding@thomsonreuters.com)) Keywords: BREAKINGVIEWS APPLE/SAMSUNG

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