Opinion

Alison Frankel

New class action: Real victims of Samsung infringement are consumers

Alison Frankel
Feb 10, 2014 19:55 UTC

Once again, we are reminded that defendants underestimate the creativity of the class action bar at their own peril.

Last week, the firms Reese Richman and Halunen & Associates filed quite an interesting class action complaint in federal court in San Francisco. The case asserts that Samsung’s infringement of various Apple patents in its mobile devices – as established in a jury trial in federal court and in a proceeding at the U.S. International Trade Commission – has injured unwitting Samsung mobile device buyers who believed they were purchasing non-infringing products. According to the complaint, the resale market for Samsung devices has been hard-hit by infringement findings against the company; the suit claims that Samsung owners are actually in danger of violating the Tariff Act of 1930 if they attempt to resell infringing tablets and smartphones.

As you may recall, Samsung is on the hook to Apple for more than $900 million in damages after a partial damages retrial in November of its first round of patent infringement claims against Samsung in San Francisco federal court. The purported nationwide consumer class action actually claims far more than that on behalf of Samsung device purchasers. Under one of the suit’s causes of action, the class wants Samsung to repay the entire cost of the infringing mobile devices to the consumers who bought them – or at least the lost value consumers have realized as a result of Samsung’s infringement. Under another theory, class members assert that Samsung must disgorge to them all of its profits from selling infringing devices. That’s a lot of money: According to Apple, Samsung took in $3.5 billion in revenue from the sale of almost 11 million infringing devices.

So what are these theories that give rise to such outsize potential liability? The complaint claims breach of warranty on behalf of Samsung purchasers nationwide, citing state consumer warranty laws. It also claims violations of New York and New Jersey deceptive trade practices laws on behalf of the nationwide class. The New York law, according to the complaint, provides for at least $50 in statutory damages to every purchaser of an infringing device (or, if Apple’s sales tally is correct, $550 million). The New Jersey law allows consumers to seek damages based on arguments that they wouldn’t have bought the devices at all if they’d known of Samsung’s infringement. But that’s not all: The suit also alleges unjust enrichment under California, New York and New Jersey statutes, demanding restitution of the full purchase price of the infringing products. (In addition, the complaint alleges California unfair trade practices laws on behalf of a California-only class.)

Mayer Brown‘s Class Defense Blog, where I first heard about the Samsung consumer suit, points out some of the potential obstacles for consumers claiming damages from the purchase of infringing products, some specific to smart device cases (Did consumers really know or care about infringement claims when they bought tablets and smartphones?) and some the usual class action defenses, such as whether injury and damages can be shown on a nationwide class basis. Mayer Brown’s Archis Parasharami says in the blog post that he’s skeptical judges will buy the theory that infringement harms consumers, but if they do, you can expect a proliferation of such claims. “It is easy to see why plaintiffs’ lawyers might find these kinds of cases attractive,” he wrote. “If the result of a battle between competitors is that a product has been determined to be infringing by a court or agency, that may substantially reduce the work a plaintiffs’ lawyer needs to do to pursue the case. And that lawyer will likely argue that key aspects of liability have already been established before the class action even gets started.”

How Facebook IPO class action lawyers changed judge’s mind

Alison Frankel
Dec 20, 2013 20:37 UTC

The first paragraph of Facebook’s motion to dismiss a securities class action that raised allegations about disclosures in its initial public offering was a no-brainer. Last February, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet of Manhattan tossed four shareholder derivative suits based on the same underlying facts, concluding in a voluminous opinion that Facebook had “repeatedly made express and extensive warnings” about potential weaknesses in its revenue model as users shifted from desktop computers to mobile devices. So in May, when Facebook’s lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis and Willkie Farr & Gallagher moved to dismiss the parallel securities class action, which is also before Judge Sweet, they quoted the judge’s own words right back to him, not just in the first paragraph but seven more times in the dismissal brief.

To no avail, as it happened.

Sweet ruled earlier this week that Facebook IPO investors may proceed with their class action, holding that their consolidated complaint made out a sufficient case that the company failed to disclose material information about the impact of mobile usage on Facebook revenues and that the company materially misrepresented its knowledge of that impact. The judge noted twice – once in a footnote and once deep in the ruling in his discussion of materiality – that his new decision might seem to be at odds with his dismissal of the derivative suits. But after a long quote from the previous ruling that included his prior words about Facebook’s “express and extensive warnings,” Sweet called the language “dicta (that) does not change the analysis here.”

So how does a judge move from his finding that a company has told investors all they need to know in advance of its IPO to a holding that (based on untested shareholder allegations, to be sure) those same disclosures and representations are materially deficient? Sweet gave two explanations: The derivative claims were based on an alleged breach of duty, which has a higher evidentiary standard, and class counsel from Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann and Labaton Sucharow managed to tweak shareholders’ allegations to distinguish their arguments from those in the derivative suit.

Intellectual Ventures hit Hynix, Elpida with second IP suit

Alison Frankel
Jul 12, 2011 13:54 UTC

Last December, when Nathan Myhrvold’s ginormous patent-aggregator Intellectual Ventures filed its first three patent infringement suits, it seemed as though a dam had broken. Between the time IV was founded in 2000 until last December, the company had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire some 30,000 patents — but it had never filed a suit to enforce them. IV instead relied on the leverage of its vast portfolio to make licensing deals. The tech world wondered whether the December infringement suits were the first trickles of what would become a river of litigation.

They weren’t. IV quietly went back to business as usual. But on Monday Intellectual Ventures struck again, filing a new patent infringement complaint in Seattle federal court, as well as a complaint at the U.S. International Trade Commission. The new suits name Hynix and Elpida, the computer memory manufacturers, as well as computer makers that use their products (including Acer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Logitech) and stores that sell them (Wal-Mart and Best Buy). IV accuses Hynix and Elpida of infringing five of its patents and inducing the other defendants to infringe. The five patents in the Seattle case do not overlap with the seven patents IV asserted against Hynix and Elpida in Delaware.

IV has added a new firm to its roster of outside counsel: The Seattle suit will be handled by Irell & Manella, as well as Seattle counsel from Black Lowe & Graham. Weil, Gotshal & Manges represents IV in its Delaware suit against Hynix and Elpida; in the other two Delaware cases, Susman Godrey and Desmarais LLP represent IV.

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