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22 March 2011, 08:58

Microsoft sues vendors and manufacturers over Android devices

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Microsoft has announced that it has taken legal action against book seller Barnes & Noble and manufacturers Foxconn and Inventec. The legal action is over what Microsoft claims are patent infringements in the Android based Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader and tablets. The original e-ink display, Nook was launched in October 2009 and a year later was followed by the LCD touchscreen based Nook Color; the Nook is currently only available in the United States.

In a blog posting, Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft Deputy General Counsel, said that the company had been attempting to get the three defendants to sign a licensing agreement for the past year for five patents:

  • 5,778,372 "Remote retrieval and display management of electronic document with incorporated images"
  • 6,339,780 "Loading status in a hypermedia browser having a limited available display area"
  • 5,889,522 "System provided child window controls"
  • 6,891,551 "Selection handles in editing electronic documents"
  • 6,957,233 "Method and apparatus for capturing and rendering annotations for non-modifiable electronic content"

The patents were granted between 1998 and 2005. Guitierrez described the patents as giving "people easy ways to navigate through information provided by their device apps via a separate control window with tabs"; enabling the "display of a webpage’s content before the background image is received allowing users to interact with the page faster"; allowing "apps to superimpose download status on top of the downloading content"; permitting "users to easily select text in a document and adjust that selection"; and, providing "users the ability to annotate text without changing the underlying document".

This is not the first time Microsoft has taken legal action over what it claims are patents infringed by devices running Google's Android open source operating system. In October 2010, Microsoft sued Motorola with Motorola's range of Android based smartphones being the focus of the action. The Nook has its own user interface and applications and the Microsoft patents in question could be read as specifically addressing the Barnes & Noble software. This may be the reason that Microsoft has not taken legal action against Google, the developers and distributors of the Android operating system.

Microsoft's Gutierrez points to licensing deals that Microsoft has made with HTC regarding Android, Amazon regarding its Kindle e-reader and "many other device makers". Despite the Microsoft licence deal, HTC is still locked in a patent battle with Apple over smartphone patents and that is just one of the many smartphone patent disputes that are currently ongoing. The action against Foxconn and Inventec could have wider impact as both manufacturers produce devices for a large number of well known companies but the exact impact would depend on the specifics of any injunction sought by Microsoft.


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