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Microsoft Sues Barnes & Noble, Targets Android Use

Microsoft once again has drawn its legal guns on the Android open source mobile operating system, taking aim at the creators of the Nook Color Tablet device and Nook e-reader.

The lawsuit was filed today against the Barnes & Noble bookseller, along with its device manufacturing partners Foxconn International Holdings and Inventec Corp. in the U.S. District Court for Western Washington. Microsoft is suing the three companies over patented intellectual property alleged to be used in the tablet and reader devices. The technologies infringed, according to Microsoft, include some basic user interface navigational solutions and a solution that facilitates the delivery of Web content prior to the background image arriving.

The navigation technologies alleged to be infringed include the use of tabs in a control window, showing download status and a text selection facility. Microsoft is also alleging infringement for a technology that lets users "annotate text without changing the underlying document," according to its announcement.

The company pointed to its patent-licensing deal inked with HTC in April as evidence that the Android OS is encumbered by unresolved patent issues. That deal perhaps marked the first salvo in Microsoft's targeting of the Linux-based mobile OS, which has been adopted by many of Microsoft's hardware device manufacturing partners for smartphone products. HTC, in addition to getting sued by Microsoft, is a partner with Microsoft on Windows Phone 7 devices.

Microsoft also sued its device-manufacturing partner Motorola in October, alleging that nine patents were violated by Motorola's use of Android in its smartphones. The alleged use of Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync technology by Motorola is also under contention in the continuing litigation.

Microsoft achieved a licensing deal with Amazon.com over use of patented Microsoft technologies in Amazon.com's Kindle e-reader device, noted Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's corporate vice president and deputy general counsel. However, he claimed that Barnes & Noble, Foxconn and Inventec have been holding out after "more than a year of discussions," leaving Microsoft no choice but to sue.

Microsoft is generally sending out the message that Android is the target. It wants companies to license its intellectual property if they use the mobile OS, which was fostered and developed, in part, by Google.

"The Android platform infringes a number of Microsoft's patents, and companies manufacturing and shipping Android devices must respect our intellectual property rights," Gutierrez stated.

Gutierrez was one of Microsoft's legal counsels who claimed, nearly four years ago, that Linux violates 235 of Microsoft's patents. That caused uproar among the Linux community at the time, but in this announcement, Gutierrez depicted Microsoft as a somewhat reluctant litigator.

"Together with the patents already asserted in the course of our litigation against Motorola, today's actions bring to 25 the total number of Microsoft patents in litigation for infringement by Android smartphones, tablets and other devices," Gutierrez stated in the announcement. "Microsoft is not a company that pursues litigation lightly. In fact, this is only our seventh proactive patent infringement suit in our 36-year history. But we simply cannot ignore infringement of this scope and scale."

Gutierrez claimed that Microsoft generally prefers licensing over resorting to lawsuits. Microsoft quickly settled with Salesforce.com in August after suing the provider of on-demand CRM solutions over nine allegedly infringed technologies. Salesforce.com had countersued and the final settlement involved cross-licensing agreement.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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