The US International Trade Commission (“ITC”) has initiated an investigation into possible infringement of Nvidia’s graphics processing units (“GPU”) patents by Samsung and Qualcomm. Nvidia claims that Samsung infringes seven of its GPU patents that are purportedly embodied in Samsung products, including Galaxy Note Edge, Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy S5. If ITC finds that the patents were infringed, it could enjoin importation of all such phones into the US. In September, Nvidia also filed an infringement lawsuit in the District of Delaware. Law360 reporting this development lists the patents in question.
Tech firms have been pursuing such claims with the ITC because it is a potentially lucrative alternative to seeking an injunction from courts against the alleged infringer. Since the Supreme Court’s 2006 eBay decision, there has been uncertainty on the firms’ ability to obtain injunctive relief. Such relief is greated in equity, and eBay requires courts to consider “the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant.” See eBay Inc. v. MercExchange L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388, 391 (2006). This imposes a higher standard for a patent holder to establish a case for injunction, especially where the alleged infringing products are already in the market, because an injunction would result in a significant loss of revenue as well as exclude competition. However, the Federal Circuit has held that ITC is not necessarily bound by the eBay injunction test. It observed that the legislative intent appears to offer injunctions as a mandatory statutory remedy under Section 337, and thus that irreparable harm isn’t a relevant factor for determination. See Spansion, Inc. v. ITC, 629 F.3d 1331, 1359 (Fed. Cir. 2010).
The advantage of approaching the ITC in such cases is its faster procedural pace over the courts. This is of great relevance in the smartphone market, where a product might last only a couple of years before it is replaced with upgraded models. An injunction in a civil lawsuit granted after several years of litigation would not be strategically viable.