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Microsoft sues Nook partners over Android-based UI

Mar 21, 2011 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

Microsoft has filed a lawsuit against Barnes & Noble with the ITC and the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington over Android-based UI techniques used in the Nook-e-reader claimed to be covered under Microsoft patents. The lawsuit also targets Nook device manufacturing partners Foxconn International and Inventec, says the company.

Just when we thought Microsoft might be willing to take a back seat and let Oracle and others fight the good fight against Google over Android-related patents, the software giant is back with a lawsuit against Barnes & Noble and its Nook manufacturing partners. The book retailing giant — as well as its hardware partners Foxconn and Inventec —  are all cited in patent suits filed by Microsoft at the International Trade Commission (ITC), as well as the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington.

The lawsuits cover patent infringement by Android-based e-reader and tablet devices that are marketed under the Barnes & Noble brand, says Microsoft. This would appear to cover the original, dual-screen Nook, as well as the updated Wi-Fi-only and 3G versions, and the latest, single-screen Nook Color. It may also cover other Android devices the company is developing.

Nook Color (left) and earlier Nook Wi-Fi (right)

As Microsoft defines it, "The patents at issue cover a range of functionality embodied in Android devices that are essential to the user experience, including: natural ways of interacting with devices by tabbing through various screens to find the information they need; surfing the Web more quickly, and interacting with documents and e-books."

Microsoft's official statements, posted farther below in their entirety, suggest that the cited UI techniques may be similar to those covered in a patent agreement signed between HTC and Microsoft in April 2010 regarding Android patents.

The HTC agreement closely followed an Apple lawsuit against HTC filed on Mar. 2, 2010, alleging violation in Android phones of some 20 patents related to the iPhone's interface, architecture, and hardware. Apple followed up with a second suit against HTC in June covering two related patents.

In October of last year, Microsoft launched its own patent infringement lawsuit against Motorola. Microsoft claimed Motorola's Android smartphones violated nine software patents related to synchronizing e-mail, calendars and contacts; scheduling meetings; and notifying applications of changes in signal strength and battery power.

In November, it was Apple's turn again. The company sued Motorola for infringing on six patents related to multitouch and other access technologies in its Android smartphones.

As far as we know, none of the above lawsuits has been resolved. Meanwhile, there's now talk about the potential for Google being sued by a member of the Linux open source community for alleged GPL violations in Android.

Since Microsoft launched its IP licensing program in 2003, the company has entered into more than 600 licensing agreements, says the company. Over the last few years, embedded Linux vendors have been the subject of most of the announced settlements, including, in Feb. 2010, Amazon, for its Linux-based Kindle. Now, its the Linux-based Android that has fallen under Redmond's legal attack.

Microsoft did not specifically list the patents that the Nook was said to have violated. Only with Dutch personal navigation device vendor TomTom — which initially refused to settle with Microsoft in 2009, thereby forcing a lawsuit — was Microsoft forced to fully show its hand.

Microsoft patent claims were then said to cover the Linux implementation of the FAT file system. In the end, however, TomTom, too, was forced to settle.

While Microsoft included Nook device manufacturers Foxconn and Inventec in the suit, it spared its old partner Intrinsyc, whose software integration role on the Nook was highlighted by the company shortly after the Nook was announced. Intrinsyc was said to have customized Android to abstract the hardware from the applications, enabling the application development team to build applications that spanned the Nook's original dual screen design.

Specifically, the company offered its RapidRIL, Connection Manager, Power Optimizer, Telephony Test Suite, and Remote Device Updater tools to achieve the system integration, said the company at the time.

Microsoft's statements on Nook

Stated Microsoft's Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel for Intellectual Property & Licensing, "The Android platform infringes a number of Microsoft's patents, and companies manufacturing and shipping Android devices must respect our intellectual property rights. To facilitate that we have established an industry-wide patent licensing program for Android device manufacturers."

Gutierrez continued, "HTC, a market leader in Android smartphones, has taken a license under this program. We have tried for over a year to reach licensing agreements with Barnes & Noble, Foxconn and Inventec. Their refusals to take licenses leave us no choice but to bring legal action to defend our innovations and fulfill our responsibility to our customers, partners, and shareholders to safeguard the billions of dollars we invest each year to bring great software products and services to market."

Barnes & Noble and Spring Design settle, as Alex e-reader is pulled

This is not the first time the Nook has attracted a lawsuit. Before the original Nook even shipped, Barnes & Noble was sued by Spring Design, which claimed that the company had stolen the design from its own Android-based Alex e-reader device. The two companies settled the lawsuit earlier this month.

According to TechCrunch, Spring Design settled shortly after announcing on its website that it is discontinuing retail sales of the Alex e-reader in order to focus its resources on developing "next generation eReader products and services" with ReadMate, the company that provides the underlying technology used in the Alex.

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