There are two ways to read Monday's court order denying Apple's bid for permanent injunctions against 26 Samsung products a federal jury found violated Apple's patents.
At the macro level, the 23-page order from U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh builds on a six-year trend of federal courts restricting the issuance of injunctions in patent cases.
At the micro level, Koh's ruling responds to an October decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversing her judgment in a related patent fight between Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.
Koh's new order applies a heightened standard established by the Federal Circuit that requires patent-holders to show a direct link between lost market-share and a specific infringing feature of a competitor's product.
Patent lawyers said that logic would make it nearly impossible going forward to block the sale of complex devices like smartphones that incorporate numerous features, only some of which infringe patents.
If the rulings stand they could "radically change the calculus of patent suits," said Mark Lemley, director of Stanford Law School's Program in Law, Science, and Technology.
Lemley said courts have already clamped down significantly on injunctions requested by non-practicing entities. Koh's order raises the bar for major consumer companies like Apple to block the sale of competing products, he said.
Koh's ruling leans heavily on the Federal Circuit's opinion in Apple v. Samsung, 12-1507. That opinion, dubbed Apple II, overturned Koh's decision to grant a preliminary injunction against Samsung's Galaxy Nexus phone in a lawsuit over the patented search technology used in Apple's "Siri" feature.
This time, Koh found Apple's evidence for injunctive relief fell short of the Federal Circuit's strict "causal nexus" standard, because lawyers did not prove the copied features, such as Apple's patented pinch-and-zoom technology, specifically drove consumers to buy Samsung devices.
"The Federal Circuit has been quite clear that a showing of harm is not enough; Apple must link any harm it suffers directly to Samsung's infringement," Koh wrote.