More Patent Madness: Microsoft is Suing Barnes & Noble

By  |  Monday, March 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm

More news in the never-ending saga of technology companies suing each other over patents: Microsoft is suing Barnes & Noble and its manfuacturing partners Foxconn and Inventec, saying that the bookseller’s Android-based Nook and Nookcolor e-readers violate Microsoft software patents dating back to the 1990s. The move isn’t a shocker given that Microsoft had already sued Motorola over Android phones and struck licensing agreements with HTC (for Android phones) and (for the not-based-on-Android Kindle e-reader).

The license fee that Microsoft says it expects makers of Android devices to pay it would make it the only company to collect a royalty on every Android-based gadget sold. (Google gives away the software.)

In a blog post announcing the suit, Microsoft Corporate VP Horacio Gutierrez says:

By bringing this case, we are protecting our investments on behalf of our customers, partners and shareholders – just as other companies do. Our firm view remains, however, that licensing is the best way forward for the industry, and we will continue to prefer the licensing path to litigation.

Microsoft is suing Barnes & Noble on behalf of its customers? Gee thanks. But some customers of Microsoft (and other tech outfits, including Apple, Nokia, HTC, and others) would much rather that the companies spent less time in court squabbling over patents on rather obvious ideas and more time actually making innovative products. (Barnes & Noble, unlike Microsoft and its partners, has succeeded in designing and selling an e-reader that large numbers of people want.)

In Microsoft’s defense, it’s not a lawsuit-crazy company–it says it’s only filed seven “proactive” patent suits in its 36 years in business. But maybe that’s an argument against cases like these, not in favor of them: The company sure seems to have done well over the years without resorting to stuff like this.


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4 Comments For This Post

  1. onordpol Says:

    We live in an era where hubris and nemesis play out not as cathartic tragedy but goofball lawyers racking up billable hours.

  2. Vulpine Says:

    I have one simple question:
    Exactly WHAT Microsoft patents does Android infringe? I'll grant that MS owns some part of, I think, Red Hat, but as far as I know Android draws nothing from Red Hat that's not in every other version of Linux. I don't see how Microsoft can lay claim to any part of Linux in general, which is the core underneath Android.

    I'm honestly asking as somebody who doesn't know, not asking a rhetorical or sarcastic question.

  3. drew Says:

    This is from the Microsoft link-
    The Microsoft-created features protected by the patents infringed by the Nook and Nook Color tablet are core to the user experience. For example, the patents we asserted today protect innovations that:

    • Give people easy ways to navigate through information provided by their device apps via a separate control window with tabs;

    • Enable display of a webpage’s content before the background image is received, allowing users to interact with the page faster;

    • Allow apps to superimpose download status on top of the downloading content;

    • Permit users to easily select text in a document and adjust that selection; and

    • Provide users the ability to annotate text without changing the underlying document.

  4. Vulpine Says:

    Yet more proof that our patent system is messed up. Then again, since I don't use the Nook itself, I really don't know how similar the Nook's operations are to what Microsoft is claiming ownership. Seems to me like too many software companies are patenting procedures that were part of "dead tree" policies long before computers hit the desktop.

    Things like 'margin notes' (annotating text) or 'select text and adjust' were once done on machines like the IBM Selectric and other advanced typewriters. Even the old Dos-level word processors gave that ability and that's certainly prior art.
    Superimposition? Display of content before the page fully loads? Ok, maybe, but if you ask me that's picking nits.

    If you ask me, and this is strictly an opinion, Microsoft realizes that they screwed up their tablet concept ten years ago and is now trying to use Android to make up for that loss. It seems that since they can't do anything about Android itself, they're hitting anything in the third-party GUIs that looks anything like a Windows component.