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Apple v. Samsung

     Perhaps one of the most recognizable trademark/trade dress cases in recent history is the suit between Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. over their cell phone and tablet designs. The fight between the two companies is still ongoing, and has actually involved 50 lawsuits in over 10 countries (although we will just focus on the United States litigation). Apple initiated the lawsuit against Samsung, claiming that several of Samsung’s smartphones infringed upon Apple’s intellectual property, namely its patents, trademarks, user interface, and style.

     Samsung won the first battle, as the United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied Apple’s motion for a preliminary injunction prohibiting sale of Samsung products that likely infringed on Apple’s patents and trademarks because "Apple . . . failed to meet its burden of showing likelihood of irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction." Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., No. 11-CV-01846-LHK, 2011 WL 7036077, at *41 (N.D. Cal. 2011). On appeal, the preliminary injunction was upheld for three of Apple’s patents, but the appeals court disagreed with the district court’s reasoning for denying an injunction for one patent (relating to a tablet computer), and remanded the case. Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., 678 F.3d 1314, 1333 (9th Cir. 2012).  On remand, the district court reversed course and granted Apple’s motion for preliminary injunction, and enjoined the sale of Samsung’s Galaxy 10.1 tablet computer. Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., No. 11-CV-01846-LHK, 2012 WL 2401680 (N.D. Cal. 2012). When the case finally went to trial, Apple emerged largely victorious, with the jury awarding the company more than $1 billion for Samsung’s infringements on Apple’s patents and trademarks. Interestingly, the deciding factor for the jury in what was undoubtedly a very technical and complicated trial (the jurors were given 109 pages of jury instructions) might have been the social science evidence presented by the parties.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

During the Apple v. Samsung trial, both parties presented visual evidence that either tried to show how similar or dissimilar the respective parties’ devices were. In a case as complicated as this one, graphics that paint a clear, even simplified picture of the situation are much more likely to influence the jury.


     As one juror from the trial explained, "We found for Apple because of theevidence they presented. It was clear there was infringement." This juror went on to address Figure 9, stating that it was particularly influential on him because it clearly showed some of Samsung’s phones before the Iphone on the left, an Iphone in the middle, and some of Samsung’s phones after the Iphone. The juror even suggested that in deliberation, the jurors skipped over some of the more difficult information and essentially relied upon their gut feelings about the case and the "story" they were presented. This juror’s insights reveal the power of effective and simple graphic evidence. Now, compare this to a graphic used by Samsung.


This Samsung graphic was intended to show that Samsung’s phones were changing before and after the creation of the Iphone, suggesting that they were not copying the Iphone. Although Samsung was trying to show that they did not copy the Iphone as they were implementing the contested features at a time before the creation of the Iphone, even a cursory glance reveals that it is much more cluttered. As has been stated here, the effectiveness of this graphic would likely depend more on the attorney’s argument, rather than just the visual itself.

Here is another effective visual aid used by Apple at trial.


Once again, this Apple graphic is straightforward, and it essentially requires no additional explanation. It compares the app shortcut design patented by Apple and then compares those to the ones used by a Samsung phone, the Fascinate.

Visual Evidence and Jurors

     It may seem like an obvious statement, but jurors have a hard time processing the very complex legal concepts they are bombarded with throughout a trial and during their jury instructions. As years of research have shown, jurors do not understand even typical jury instructions (Firoz Dattu, Illustrated Jury Instructions: A Proposal, 22 Law & Psychol. Rev. 67, 1998).  Thus, jurors unfortunately can sometimes reach verdicts that are not supported by the law. "The body of research demonstrating the lack of juror comprehension points to the abstract, technical, and convoluted presentation of jury instructions as the primary reason for this juror confusion." Id. To alleviate these problems, prudent attorneys use visual materials to help get their argument across in a simple and effective way. Countless psychological studies have revealed that visual aids paired with readings enhance the comprehension of the readings. One experiment conducted by Nekane Balluerka studied whether illustrations helped people to understand technical information in a long, written passage. Nekane Balluerka, The Influence of Instructions, Outlines, and Illustrations on the Comprehension and Recall of Scientific Texts, 20 Contemp. Educ. Psychol. 369-70 (1995). "The experiment's relatively long text consisted of 1336 words, not an unrealistic length for jury instructions." The results of the experiment revealed that illustrations significantly enhanced the comprehension of the reading. The experiment also tested the participants’ ability to apply the learned information, similar to the way jurors apply their jury instructions to decide the case at hand. The experiment revealed that visual aids enhanced the participants’ ability to apply the learned material as well. Balluerka suggested that "the [college] students who had the illustration were able to produce a well-structured mental representation of the central and relevant parts of the text. This representation then facilitated comprehension and the ability to use the learned information in a creative way, even 24 h[ours] after the study phase."

     This is just one illustration of the effects of visuals on jurors. Although there are obviously many more factors influencing the jurors in a case as complicated as the Apple v. Samsung case, the use of effective and clear visual evidence likely had an effect on Apple’s eventual big settlement.