A U.S. appeals court wrestled on Friday with a request by Apple Inc for a permanent injunction on sales of some phones made by its arch rival, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, in a case that could have a deep impact on patent litigation.
Apple is appealing a lower court ruling that rejected the iPhone maker's request that some older-model Samsung phones be permanently banned because they violate an Apple patent.
At a hearing in Washington, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Bryson questioned whether Apple was trying to use the appeal to set a precedent that would allow it to seek sales bans for newer, more lucrative Samsung phones in an expedited fashion. The current case has dragged on for two years.
"Is that really what we're dealing with?" Bryson asked.
Apple lawyer William Lee acknowledged that if the iPhone maker's injunction request was granted, the company would seek a so-called contempt proceeding to go after newer Samsung phones.
The case is one of many between the two phone makers as they accuse each other of patent violations in a bid to dominate a fast-growing market for mobile devices.
Samsung's popular Galaxy smartphones and tablets run on Google's Android operating system, which Apple's late co-founder, Steve Jobs, once denounced as a "stolen product."
Apple won a big monetary verdict last year against Samsung from a Northern California jury, but the company has been less successful in convincing judges to order injunctions.
On Friday, the three-judge panel considered whether Apple should prove that one feature of a complex product - like a smartphone - was the single driver of consumer demand. The lower court had ruled that Apple wasn't entitled to an injunction without such proof.
Broadly at stake is whether judges can permanently ban the sale of complex devices like smartphones, which have thousands of features, because they violate a patent that covers just one of those features - a potentially market-crippling decision.
Samsung has said that all of the phones involved in the ongoing patent litigation are either no longer in the market or include design workarounds. Apple says the newer phones continue to rely on the same features at stake in this case.
The court is expected to issue a written opinion but did not indicate a timeline.
The case is Apple Inc v. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Federal U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 13-1129.