Last week Barnes & Noble lobbied United States regulators to investigate Microsoft, on the basis that its lawsuits and licensing agreements with Android OEMs constituted monopolistic behavior. The first fruit of this effort is a detailed look at the patents that Microsoft has been using to pressure manufacturers into licensing deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Barnes & Noble seems determined to keep from paying Microsoft for its Nook line of e-readers and tablets.
Barnes & Noble contends that the patents are frivolous and trivial, most of them containing considerable prior art that existed long before the patents were awarded. There’s nothing to say that the six patents outlined in the case against Barnes & Noble are the same ones that have been used on the likes of Samsung and HTC, but it’s a fair bet that some or all of them are the crux of Microsoft’s arguments across the Android spectrum. In a letter to the Department of Justice, B&N said that the patents “cover only arbitrary, outmoded and non-essential design features,” but that Microsoft is charging extremely high licensing fees, essentially bumping up the price of “free” Android and giving Microsoft the power to stop individual features from being implemented.
Here’s all the patents Microsoft is using, and Barnes & Noble’s rebuttal:
I. ’372 Patent (Web Browser Background Image Loading)
The ’372 patent was filed April 18, 1996. Very generally, the patent relates to an outmoded system for retrieving an electronic document like a webpage that includes an embedded background image, which may have a bearing on very old web browsers connected to the Internet via slow, dial-up connections, but has little application in the context of improved, modern Internet connections….
II. ’522 Patent (Operating System Provided Tabs)
The ’522 patents was filed December 13, 1994. The patent relates to a single, simple tool provided by an operating system (such as Windows) that allows applications running on that operating system to have a common look and feel. Since operating systems provide many such tools, the patent amounts to nothing more than a trivial design choice. In particular, and despite the fact that this concept is in the prior art, the ’522 patent’s method allows for the creation of tabs. The tabs are analogous to dividers like those found in a notebook or to labels found in a file cabinet, and allow the user of an application to navigate between multiple pages of information in the same window by clicking on the tabs….
III. ’551 Patent (Electronic Selection with “Handles”)
On its face, the ’551 patent purports to claim priority back to a November 10, 2000 filing date. Generally, the ’551 patent relates to another simple and trivial feature that is not only disclosed by numerous prior art references, but is certainly not central to an operating system like Android — selecting or highlighting text or graphics within an electronic document. The patent provides that a user selects a word or phrase, for example, by tapping on a touch screen display or clicking with a mouse. Such a selection may be shown by highlighting the selected word or phrase. The user is presented with “selection handles” on one or both ends of the selected areas. These “selection handles” can be moved by the user to highlight more or less text or graphics….
IV. ’233 Patent (Annotation of Electronic Documents)
The ’233 patent was filed December 7, 1999. Like the other Microsoft patents, the ’233 patent relates only to one small feature that has long been present in the prior art and is not central to Android or any other operating system. More specifically, the patent generally relates to a method for capturing annotations made in an electronic document (like an electronic book), without changing the electronic document itself….
V. ’780 Patent (Web Browser Loading Status Icons)
The ’780 patent was not filed until May 6, 1997, long after the first web browser came to market. In addition to being late to the game, the patent is directed to a very simple and obvious feature — a temporary graphic element or status icon that is displayed to indicate that a hypermedia browser (such as a web browser) is loading content. When a browser is intended for use with a portable computer system with a limited display size, the ’780 patent notes that it is desirable to maximize the browser’s content display area (the portion of the browser that actually displays a website, not the menus, toolbars, or buttons). Thus, the patent makes a trivial design choice and provides that the graphic element or loading status icon is to be temporarily displayed in the content display area of the browser as opposed to a separate space such as the browser’s menu bar, tool bar, or a separate status bar….
Barnes & Noble also outlined several other patents and points. For a full look at all the legalese (which is far beyond the analytical powers of this humble Android blogger) check out Groklaw’s post on the subject.
Barnes & Noble seems completely committed to breaking the cycle of Microsoft’s patent trolling legal action and licensing. I’d wager that Google couldn’t be happier, since none of the various companies going after Android OEMs have directly threatened the parent company with legal action. If Barnes & Noble succeeds in fighting off Microsoft’s suit and securing and investigation, it might (and this is a long shot here) means that the licensing deals already in place elsewhere are renegotiated or dropped.