As the U.S. patent infringement trial between mobile device giants Apple and Samsung nears its end, the presiding judge late Sunday overturned a lower judge’s ruling in favor of Apple and significantly leveled the playing field between the two companies prior to jury deliberations, FOSS Patents reported Monday.. According to Judge Lucy Koh’s orders, the jury will be instructed that both Apple and Samsung destroyed relevant email evidence prior to the trial.
The issue began in late July, when Apple won an adverse inference jury instruction from a magistrate judge against Samsung for failing to preserve emails on its corporate servers after it became clear that litigation was “reasonably foreseeable.” An adverse inference instruction is when a judge instructs the jury prior to deliberations that they can (or must in some cases) conclude that one party destroyed or failed to produce relevant evidence because it was damaging to their case. Such an instruction can be damaging to not only one party’s case on the merits, but also to that party’s credibility in the jury’s eyes.
Shortly after Apple won its instruction, Samsung brought a “me too” motion asking for the court to issue the same instruction to the jury against Apple (i.e., that Apple also destroyed evidence unfavorable to its case). That motion was denied by the magistrate judge last week, leaving Samsung in a precarious position.
Samsung responded by appealing the magistrate judge’s decision, arguing to Judge Koh that either both sides should be subject to the instruction or neither should.
In a surprising move, Judge Koh ruled on Samsung’s motion late Sunday, entering an order to instruct the jury that both Samsung and Apple destroyed evidence. The instructions will read:
Samsung Electronics Company has failed to preserve evidence for Apple’s use in this litigation after Samsung Electronics Company’s duty to preserve arose. Whether this fact is important to you in reaching a verdict in this case is for you to decide.
Apple has failed to preserve evidence for Samsung’s use in this litigation after Apple’s duty to preserve arose. Whether this fact is important to you in reaching a verdict in this case is for you to decide.
While neither company wants the jury to infer that it destroyed evidence damaging to its case, the application of the instruction against both companies at least levels the playing field. As a result, Judge Koh’s Sunday order is a significant victory for Samsung and a setback for Apple.
Due to the fact that the two companies have failed to settle any of their claims, Judge Koh’s decision may only serve as grounds for the eventual appeals by both companies. Samsung will be able to argue that the order should never have been issued against it in the first place, while Apple will argue that Samsung’s spoliation of evidence was far more severe than its own and, therefore, the judge should have issued a much harsher instruction against the Korean company.
Judge Koh’s decision will face vigorous appeal from Apple’s attorneys today, and we will continue to provide updates as the situation evolves.