We shouldn’t feel a lot of sympathy for Barnes & Noble, Foxconn and Inventec. These are the creators of the Barnes and Noble Nook e-book reader, and they’re also the folks that Microsoft sued yesterday, alleging infringement of a series of Microsoft patents in that same device.
The patents are listed below.
- 5,889,522: System provided child window controls (Filed 1994, issued 1999)
- 5,778,372: Remote retrieval and display management of electronic document with incorporated images (Filed 1996, issued 1998)
- 6,339,780: Loading status in a hypermedia browser having a limited available display area (Filed 1997, issued 2002)
- 6,891,551: Selection handles in editing electronic documents (Filed 2001, issued 2005)
- 6,957,233: Method and apparatus for capturing and rendering annotations for non-modifiable electronic content (Filed 1999, issued 2005)
I haven’t read any of them in detail, and wouldn’t want to comment on their validity in any case, as I’m not a lawyer. However:
- Note the file / issue dates. All of these are very very old patents. The shrill cries from TechCrunch that Microsoft is stifling innovation ignore the facts – that Microsoft invented these concepts over a decade a go. They were innovators then, and now believe that others are profiting from their innovations. They simply have a longer view of the innovation cycle than most companies.
- Many of these patents are written describing a user experience on a PC. As mobile devices become general purpose devices – replacing PC’s with so-called “post-PC” devices – we should expect that PC concepts pioneered by Microsoft (and likely Apple) will find their way into our mobile devices. To the extent that those are patented concepts, someone will have to pay.
Frankly, Microsoft is smart. Google, the creators of the Android OS used in the Nook, are notoriously weak when it comes to patents. Microsoft isn’t. When Google’s open source competitor to Microsoft’s products wins market share by undercutting Microsoft on price, the only logical solution is to level the playing field by asking those who benefit from Google’s largesse to share the profits. By naming Foxconn and Inventec (the contract manufacturers of the Nook) as well as Barnes & Noble, Microsoft is seeking to impose that licensing fee on the actual manufacturer, and not just the retailer.
After losing key patent battles in the 1990’s (remember Stac Electronics?), Microsoft built a huge patent portfolio. That portfolio will be a force to be reckoned with for a long time. Expect Microsoft to use it to win new business, defend existing business, and create new revenue streams.
So who will win this current lawsuit? In a battle between an ostrich (Barnes & Noble) and a troll (Microsoft), I’d bet on the troll.