Barnes & Noble reveals Microsoft's patent strategy against its Android powered devices

The cat's out of the bag, thanks to Barnes & Noble's letters to the ITC about their dispute with Microsoft.  Rather than roll over and pay Microsoft what they demand like some big names in Android have done, B&N is fighting tooth and nail against the Redmond Devil Microsoft.  It's fairly long, and apt to make your eyes bleed if you're not a lawyer, but you can see the full scope of the letter and attachments (which actually name the patents and quickly dismiss their validity) at the source link.  Carry on past the break to read our layman's version.

Source: GroklawThanks, John!

If things are really as they appear to B&N's attorneys (which Groklaw editor pj points out are experts in anti-trust law) Cravath, Swaine and Moore, then Microsoft has some 'splaining to do.  It's confusing, complicated, and full of legalese that makes my brain hurt but here's the gist of it in handy (and hopefully less confusing) bullet point form:

  • Microsoft asserts that they take credit for Android as a whole because of the patents supposedly in violation
  • When examined, these patents "cover only arbitrary, outmoded and non-essential design features" but Microsoft demands "prohibitively expensive licensing fees", in an attempt to have "veto power" over Android's features
  • Part of the license agreement is that Microsoft controls "design elements, requiring designers to adhere to specific hardware and software specifications in order to obtain a license"
  • The patents in question all have significant cases of prior art, showing Microsoft neither came up with the idea nor had a right to patent it.

In a nutshell, Microsoft says that so much of Android uses their patented ideas, that they get to control how it's used -- and force OEM's to leave out OS functions or get approval for device design.  In reality, Microsoft's patent claims are for things B&N (and their attorneys) feel are insignificant and won't stand up in court if challenged.  A quote from B&N correspondence with the Department of Justice sums it up nicely:

Simply put, Microsoft is attempting to monopolize the mobile operating systems market and suppress competition by Android and other open source operating systems by, inter alia, demanding oppressive licensing terms directed to the entirety of Android, asserting this dominant position over Android on the basis of patents covering only trivial design choices and entering into a horizontal offensive patent agreement with Nokia

Finally, what's most interesting is that B&N isn't just defending themselves in any potential Microsoft suit, they are also going to the Dept. of Justice and presenting this as an anti-trust issue. 

We have to wonder -- were the agreements other OEM's signed similar?  Why would HTC and Samsung agree to allow Microsoft how to dictate device design?  Granted, Groklaw isn't the most Microsoft friendly place on the Internet, and there are two sides to every story.  Or maybe Microsoft is just evil.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Once again I say good on you Barnes & Noble. I have no problem with licensing technology between companies. That's the way the game is played. But if company A (Microsoft) is saying to company B (B&N, Samsung, HTC, Motorola), "You are violating our patents. Pay us the money!" And from most reports refuses to even prove the violations in court?!?! I got problems. Here is hoping this is the case that tests a lot of these patent claims in court & puts them bust. Now as to what that would mean for companies that have already signed a deal with M$ who knows. But I applaud B&N for having the gumption to say "Show us the code."
  • Show me the car fax....
    I mean source code.....
  • “mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git:// ; repo sync ; make” – Andy Rubin!/Arubin/status/27808662429
  • Good on B&N and Shame on Google and the other Android handset makers for rolling over and not standing up earlier.
  • Google can't stand up. Until now no one knew what these patents were except those parties in the agreement and part of the agreement is that they can't talk about it.
  • Of course Google can stand up. They could have indemnified their partners against lawsuit, but they refused to do so. Even now, they have yet to enter the B&N lawsuit on B&N's side. When the lawsuit was announced they should have IMMEDIATELY jumped in to help defend B&N. Their silence is deafening.
  • There hasn't been a lawsuit. This is negotiations that may turn into lawsuit.
  • Sorry you are wrong, Googles silence is very loud. They [Google] are sitting back watching the devils (Mike Rowe Soft and Crapple) play their hands foolishly.. They are running out of options. Microsoft may have put its own nail in their own coffin. When B&N took it to the DOJ, Microsoft better be careful. ALL the contracts that involve similar language could be up for review and ultimately voided and Microsoft COULD be forced to sell off its wireless division for major anti-trust matters. It doesn't do Google any good jumping in as a partner of the suit. It doesn't involve them, persay. Its about Microsoft strong arming its competitors for royalties they are not due, just like Crapple does. They (Microsoft & Crapple) can't stand the competition. NO ONE likes windows phones, any they can't handle that. Iphoneys are copies of old Samsung designs from 2006, 1 year prior to the 07 iphoney1 release.
  • Why on earth would google help B&N? They don't use any of googles services on the heavily customized version of android that they use. They have nook apps and no access to the android market so google makes nothing off of their products but search. The only vendors that google would support would be those that run the market. That is why they have stepped in to help htc and are also helping samsung in the us against apple.
  • BTW... Google barely gains any money from Android (from OEMs)
    They would back-up B&N because they use android in the core, and because this way they support Android without being in another major lawsuit.
  • Do you really have to ask why HTC and Samsung signed these deals??? Think about all those Windows desktops they have licensed. Imagine if those terms changed one way or the other. I know you can't publish that speculation but seriously don't ask like you don't know.
  • I think B&N is the only manufacturer that doesn't have a Windows OS in their lineup so Microsoft can't hold it over their head if they win in court. Hopefully B&N can pull this off and help Android as a whole in the future.
  • HTC doesnt make desktops. However.. they do make a few windows phones.
  • They used to look up the HTC Shift (Not the HTC EVO Shift)
  • Wow, it's pretty sad that a company like Samsung rolls over and one like Barnes & Noble stands and fights. I know Barnes and Noble isn't exactly a small company, but it's not exactly a Samsung or a Google either.
  • I think Samsung and HTC agreed to pay the fees because they also work with Microsoft in making windows phones. B&N doesn't so they don't have a relationship to turn sour with Microsoft, while samsung. And HTC do.
  • Works for Apple why shouldn't it work for Microsoft? But it might be interesting to see how this turns out, lawyers love to put in extra crap and what does Nokia have to do with this again I missed that part.
  • Remember that Nokia and Microsoft signed an agreement to adopt WP7 as the main OS for Nokia devices starting late in 2011. Microsoft now it's trying to eliminate the competition with all those lawsuits and make Nokia one of the only option to choose as smarthphone.
  • Microsoft are just a buncha DICKS!!
  • "In a nutshell, Microsoft says that so much of Android uses their patented ideas, that they get to control how it's used -- and force OEM's to leave out OS functions or get approval for device design." A comment like that makes me wonder if there was any impact on the Nexus because of Microsoft. I realize that the Nexus is about showcasing the OS and not so much bleeding edge hardware and design, but it does beg the question for those of us that were underwhelmed by the Nexus.
  • What I'd love to see, but it's asking a whole lot, is that this case would force the Patent Department to re-think the patent process and do away with patents that are too general (read that "Look and feel") to be useful, patents that try to patent prior art, and patents that are clearly designed not to protect intellectual property but to be used to prevent development by others.
    That probably won't happen. At least we might see the bully stick taken away from Microsoft and Apple put on warning.
  • Eventually all these companies need to get together against Microsoft and sue them for the fees they've paid. This is ridiculous!
  • At this point Microsoft should probably say **** it. They are hemmoraging money on windows phone, their agreements with Android OEM pulls in more money then their actual devices.m
  • At this point Microsoft should probably say **** it. They are hemmoraging money on windows phone, their agreements with Android OEM pulls in more money then their actual devices.m
  • At this point Microsoft should probably say **** it. They are hemmoraging money on windows phone, their agreements with Android OEM pulls in more money then their actual devices.m
  • Sorry, triple post
  • You need to take this with a giant grain of salt. In court filings, the patent holder always says the patent(s)-in-suit are the most important and valuable inventions since fire, and the accused infringer always says that the patents are garbage and the patent holder is trying to manipulate the market with bogus patents. I have worked with Microsoft IP people in the past. They tend to be aggressive, but they're definitely not stupid. With all of the antitrust problems that Microsoft has had, it's hard to believe that they haven't followed the law in that area very carefully.
  • I would definaitely agree, however, you have to wonder exactly WHAT M$ is trying to get money for. Really wish they had to make documents like this public so EVERYONE can see just how petty M$ is being!
  • Personally, I don't think Barnes & Nobles would have had a problem paying the licensing fees. What I think is being lost from this whole discussion is: "Part of the license agreement is that Microsoft controls "design elements, requiring designers to adhere to specific hardware and software specifications in order to obtain a license" That is HUGE! It's one thing to pay fees, but for that same company to who you're paying these fees too also has the right to tell you no to any of your future designs or telling you no that you can't use certain specific software specifications, now that's going a bit far. So good for you Barnes & Nobles.
  • The patent system is seriously messed up and I'm glad B&N is fighting what sounds like badly issued patents when no one else has. We should get Nooks to support them...
  • I wonder why no one has connected the dots? Lawmakers, generally, are constantly trying to find Google is "suppressing" the industry, "anti-competitive", etc. Of course, this has NOTHING to do with the money M$ hands out to them (nudge, wink). If Google went on the offensive with M$, the lawmakers M$ bought - er, that are sympathetic with - would say "poor M$", who has only 67 percent of the PC market, BTW, and would proclaim "the evil nature of Google is proven; they are attacking our poor, defenseless friend, good ol' M$!". It could be a legislative nightmare for Google, but M$ would love it!
  • Um, its called publicity. Now I have not read the legal documents yet, I am not a lawyer but have taken a few classes so I am just responding to the article and using logic. Do you really think that Samsung and HTC just rolled over? Do you think B&N's attorneys are super smart? If B&N win or loses the case it is a win for them in the public eye. Bad old evil Microsoft trying to stifle competition, I like that B&N fought back, I'm buying a new Color Nook. It will be reported in the press and it's FREE PUBLICITY... B&N has a difficult task ahead trying to keep and expand market share. iPad, Android Tablets, Kindle Fire, all are more compelling products.
  • While Android continues to outsell WP7, MS will continue these tactics since they are making much more money from Android Patents than they are from the sales of their own mobile OS.
  • Windows is trying to use the same strategy as Crapple...... I'm glad that B&N is standing up for what is right.
    Mostly since they're not just defending themselves but Android as a whole :-)
  • Did anyone notice the tags that said 'evil'????
  • How one can gather one's wits and take the bull by its horns? B & N is not a brick and mortar model of business. I can recollect those days internet was just getting popular that I came across B & N while I was searching old books. One day Google tossed their website to me.Their site looked soul touching. Books all books new books, old books, used books with photos of covers of the books you were dying to have. The idea is courage comes from conviction and conviction comes from knowledge. So being a small company or big company is not relevant. People who sell books must be good book readers as well. Hiring a battery of big lawyers is altogether a different matter but having faith in one's own conviction is the crust of winning a legal battle.
    Microsoft has been befooling the whole world with their tricks and government support. But American justice is the strongest pillar of its democracy. Long Live Barnes & Noble.