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Spring Design Sues Barnes & Noble Over Nook IP 186

Posted by kdawson
from the first-out-the-gate dept.
bth writes to let us know that Barnes & Noble has been sued by a company called Spring Design, which alleges that the recently announced Nook e-book reader infringes its intellectual property. This isn't a patent troll kind of situation; rather, the claim is misappropriation of trade secrets. Spring Design claims that they have been developing a dual-screen, Android-based e-book reader since 2006, filing patents all the while; and that they showed pretty much everything to Barnes & Noble in the expectation of working together with them to bring their reader to market.
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Spring Design Sues Barnes & Noble Over Nook IP

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  • I'm shocked! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mpapet (761907) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @04:45PM (#29967902) Homepage

    I'm shocked I tell you! Huge company with an armada of lawyers steals everything from a startup. Next thing you know the execs at B&N will be rewarded for their cleverness.

    It's never happened before.

    • Re:I'm shocked! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @04:56PM (#29968046) Journal

      Just because it's happened before doesn't mean it shouldn't be newsworthy. These companies need to be exposed for what they are doing as much as possible just like governments should be.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DiamondGeezer (872237)
      Wait for the inevitable horde to tell us that its patents that are evil and that they only encourage stealing.
    • Re:I'm shocked! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by avilliers (1158273) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @04:58PM (#29968080)

      I'm shocked I tell you! Huge company with an armada of lawyers steals everything from a startup. Next thing you know the execs at B&N will be rewarded for their cleverness.

      It's never happened before.

      Indeed.

      Also, never before in the history of corporate America, has a small company make a predictable copy of product and then sued a bigger competitor for it's equally predictable product. This is all thoroughly uncharted territory. ;)

      Absent a lot more information, there's really no way to figure if B&N is remotely guilty of anything at all. Talks about licensing do *not* prevent you from working on a similar product yourself; the practice is routine. If your internal project fails or is delayed, you want a backup--that doesn't commit you to buying or licensing before you've signed a deal. And Slashdot, of all places, should be sceptical of claims that a company "deserves" some space in the IP world just for itself because they thought about something similar.

    • Apparently they're already guilty, in your mind?
    • Re:I'm shocked! (Score:4, Informative)

      by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreak@@@eircom...net> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:11PM (#29968254) Homepage Journal

      Huge company with an armada of lawyers steals everything from a startup.

      What did they steal? Ideas? Give me a break. Does "An android based E-book reader" constitute a patent worthy idea? Actually, of course it does, and that's why I for one do not see the benefit in supporting such startups in cases like these.

      This company is a patent troll. What did they invent? A button that makes text scroll smoothly? A pop up or context sensitive interface? Oh! They invented a two screen device where you control things by moving a stylus on the bottom screen! Perhaps supplemented by additional buttons! How Original!! [nintendo.com] Yes, indeed, all companies implementing any such mechanism on any e-book whatsoever should have to pay these brilliant engineers for their hard worn innovation. /end scarcasm.

      The only people who support this company are those who believe that being the first to develop something, or being the first to spew out any old brain fart, entitles you to exclusive ownership and control over all future implementations and revenues involving that thing. It the proverbial American Dream; Winning the lottery through one crazy scheme. Everybody has one in the back of their head, and so the system stands with popular support. I for one utterly reject this model as a basis for technological development and progression.

      Patents need to die. Completely. If you can't stand on your own two feet like startups in every other industry, then you shouldn't be in business. Holding the world back until you get your protection money is a despicable practice, no matter how big or how small you are.

      • by Korin43 (881732)
        Yeah really, the only thing I see wrong in this case is that B&N was working with them, but if the company didn't want B&N to steal their idea, they should've signed a contract to that effect.
        • Yeah really, the only thing I see wrong in this case is that B&N was working with them, but if the company didn't want B&N to steal their idea, they should've signed a contract to that effect.

          They were working with B&N since the beginning of this year. If their case is legitimate, than B&N managed to work up a competing device in just a few months.

          Which I find extremely unlikely. I expect that this is just a case of parallel development.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hognoxious (631665)

          if the company didn't want B&N to steal their idea,

          Ideas per se are neither patentable (inventions using them or implementations of them are) nor copyrightable (expressions of them are).

          • Re:I'm shocked! (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Korin43 (881732) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:40PM (#29968692) Homepage
            Yes but if you want to share ideas with someone and not have them beat you to market, you can make them sign a contract saying they won't make the same device for some amount of time. In this case, they should have done that, but they didn't, so I see nothing wrong with B&N making a similar product.
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by Carbaholic (1327737)

              If you have a patent pending you would not need to have them sign a non-disclosure agreement. In fact, if you've filed a patent you have already disclosed your idea to the public or will soon.

            • Re:I'm shocked! (Score:4, Informative)

              by cerberusss (660701) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:07AM (#29974690) Homepage Journal

              make them sign a contract saying they won't make the same device for some amount of time

              Usually such contracts are very difficult to draft as well as get the other party to sign them.

              Consider this. I'm an iPhone developer. I've talked to clients where they basically say: "I have a great idea for an application and I'd like to tell you but you'll have to sign so that everything I tell you cannot ever be executed by you alone".

              That's rather difficult. They might mention a lot of ideas that I already had, thus limiting myself.

      • Oh, slashdot (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dangitman (862676)

        I can always rely on slashdot for commentary where something reasonable and somewhat intelligent-sounding:

        What did they steal? Ideas? Give me a break. Does "An android based E-book reader" constitute a patent worthy idea? Actually, of course it does, and that's why I for one do not see the benefit in supporting such startups in cases like these.

        Quickly transforms into something straight from the mind of a drooling mental patient:

        Patents need to die. Completely.

        Maybe progress could be made here, if every good idea was not countered with equal amounts of crazy extremism.

    • Following the links FTFA to the original story:

      As the first in the market to offer an e-book with full Internet browsing while reading

      Nope. Any small laptop with an ebook reader got there first.

      Spring Design pioneered its patent-pending dual screen design with Duet Navigator(TM) capability in 2006

      There's a huge difference between "patent-pending" and "we actually have an enforceable patent."

      • by JordanL (886154)
        Actually there isn't. In the US, you can sue for a patent that has not been approved, get a judgment, and the other party can have the judgment vacated if the patent is shown to be unenforceable after the fact.

        Canada has a similar system for patents, and Research in Motion found out. They were required to pay out a $700 million judgment on a patent that was found to unenforceable after the fact for technology in the BlackBerry. In that case, RIM was fined even after the fact that the patent had been reje
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tomhudson (43916)

          The RIM thing was because the judge refused to allow a delay while the patent validity was decided, and RIM blinked. RIM was NOT, contrary to your assertion, fined "even after the fact that the patent had been rejected." RIM was never fined - they settled rather than proceed with the case, given that the judge wouldn't allow the delay.

          If RIM had actually been fined, they could have had the judgment vacated.

          The whole thing IS bogus, because they claim, in part that they started developing this in 2006;

      • by icebike (68054)

        Dual screen design is patentable?

        You mean like my Razr?

        You can not take an idea available in the market on one device, bolt it to another, and claim patent-ability. Not when such an application would be obvious to anyone skilled in the craft.
        I can't believe they are going to try to hang their hat on that. Will they have the moxie to take on Microsoft to court over Microsoft's Courier? http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2009/09/23/microsoft_courier/ [reghardware.co.uk]

        I don't think this is a patent fight as much as a NDA violation

      • There's a huge difference between "patent-pending" and "we actually have an enforceable patent."

        Just curious. What leads a person like you to spread inaccurate information with such fervor?

        • by tomhudson (43916)

          There's a huge difference between "patent-pending" and "we actually have an enforceable patent."

          Just curious. What leads a person like you to spread inaccurate information with such fervor?

          Just curious - why do you disagree with both me and the USPTO wrt the term "patent pending"?

          Patents are like any other legal stuff. Just as anyone can sue anybody for anything, anyone can apply for a patent by filling in some forms and sending money.

          "Patent pending" means you don't have a patent. Otherwise,

    • by Zordak (123132)
      And yet if this were a patent case instead of a trade secret case, this page would be swarming with comments decrying the corrupt and broken patent system, without so much as a cursory glance at the claims.
  • Huh... (Score:2, Informative)

    by davcorp (465418)

    This is unbelievable.... how can a Company as reputable as Barnes and Noble do something this heinous...

    What next, a fledgling songwriter will have his lyrics "borrowed" by the next great rap star....

    When in Rome, carry a big stick or a rabid Lawyer! :)

  • by x_IamSpartacus_x (1232932) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @04:49PM (#29967952)

    Alex, with its unique Duet Navigator, provides the capability for interaction and navigation techniques of the two screens and furthermore utilizes the capabilities of Android to enhance the reader's experience by supporting interactive access to the Internet for references and links. As the first in the market to offer an e-book with full Internet browsing while reading and with easy navigational control via its touch screen, Alex is well-positioned to offer the most dynamic and powerful reading device in the market.

    This thing looks awesome. Good for Spring Design in protecting it's IP. One of my biggest complaints with the Kindle is Amazon's insistence that it be locked down and only do what Amazon wants it to do. The Alex uses Android and sounds like it's a sweet device that might be hackable and could be turned into a really really useful tool.

    Here's hoping that Spring Design really are the good guys in this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SnarfQuest (469614)

      One of my biggest complaints with the Kindle is Amazon's insistence that it be locked down and only do what Amazon wants it to do.

      You mean the inability to load your own text, html, or several other file formats? Oh wait, it already does all that.

      Or are you talking about loading your own operating system into it? I hope you put the same restrictions on your TV, Microwave oven, refrigerator, washing machine, etc.. It's built to be an appliance, not a laptop. The hardware is designed for long battery life,

      • by Bacon Bits (926911) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:33PM (#29968596)

        Shouldn't you also insist that your vacuum cleaner be user programmable or you will refuse to buy it?

        I dunno, imagine the suction a vacuum cleaner would have if it was multi-booting Vista, Windows ME, and MS-DOS 4.

      • by selven (1556643)

        I'm talking about how Amazon can force it to delete whatever they want from YOUR kindle. It means that you are not the absolute overlord of your own hardware, Amazon is, a fact that I find unacceptable.

        • by armyofone (594988)

          Agreed - which is why I won't buy one at any price. If everyone votes with their dollars, the world can be changed. However, too many people rush to buy the latest & grea... oohhhh, loook -- shiny!!

        • by Chyeld (713439)

          So, in essense you don't know wtf you are talking about and just don't like the Kindle. The only things Amazon can 'delete' off your system are books that you've licensed access for through the Amazon bookstore. Anything you've uploaded to it on your own, is untouchable.

          • by selven (1556643)

            Yes, I do "just not like the Kindle". The reason I don't like it is the fact that Amazon controls the hardware. Even if, as you claim, it can only delete books you bought, that is still unacceptable.

            • by Chyeld (713439)

              Except, if you 'bought' the book via Amazon's bookstore, you didn't BUY it, did you? You traded the power of owning the book outright for the convenience of being able to download the book from wherever, whenever. You LICENSED the book.

              Hate Amazon if you want, but if you are going to bitch about the Kindle, actually pick something that is true about the KINDLE not something that is true because the Kindle happens to include a feature from Amazon. It's entirely possible to fill a Kindle several times over wi

      • by PitaBred (632671)
        You mean that you can just copy a PDF straight over to the Kindle? I call bullshit [wikipedia.org]. The Kindle is very proprietary, and it requires a Windows application to convert files to Amazon's proprietary format. Screw that noise. It also doesn't support EPUB, which is very common in places like Project Gutenberg and so on. Stop pretending the Kindle is "open". It's as open as Windows is, which is to say, not very.
        • by mattack2 (1165421)

          I don't have a Kindle, but a simple google search results in this being among the first apps that will convert PDFs to Kindle, running on OS X and Linux, as well as Windows...
          http://calibre.kovidgoyal.net/ [kovidgoyal.net]

        • by Fizzol (598030)
          >The Kindle is very proprietary
          No, it really isn't.

          "it requires a Windows application to convert files to Amazon's proprietary format"
          No, it doesn't.

          "It also doesn't support EPUB, which is very common in places like Project Gutenberg"
          Plain text files are even more common and the Kindle supports those as a native format, also EPUBs convert to mobipocket pretty much flawlessly.

          There's very little I can't read on my Kindle if I care to. There are a couple formats that it doesn't support direc
        • by cdrguru (88047)

          The Kindle does not use a Windows application in any way. It also does not display PDF files without conversion, but I am not aware of any Windows application that will convert most PDF files for use on a Kindle. There are some tools that support conversion from various formats on Windows, Linux and OSX to the Mobipocket format. I haven't used any of those.

          PDF is a Page Description language. If you want to display a PDF page, you need to either have a display surface that will accomodate the orginally d

  • Usually the patent system is abused by those patent foundry companies turn out patents as their 'business model' to later troll up the real companies that do the innovation. It's good to finally see a story where a legitimate company that is trying to innovate a real product, might finally be able to use their patents to get a foot hold against what would otherwise be an impossible battle against a huge company.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nomadic (141991)
      Usually the patent system is abused by those patent foundry companies turn out patents as their 'business model' to later troll up the real companies that do the innovation. It's good to finally see a story where a legitimate company that is trying to innovate a real product, might finally be able to use their patents to get a foot hold against what would otherwise be an impossible battle against a huge company.

      Patent trolls make the headlines on slashdot, but the vast majority of patent actions are like
      • by Trepidity (597)

        I'm not sure it's the "vast majority". Statistics seem to vary, but I've seen about 60-75% quoted for the proportion of patent cases filed by practicing entities, with 25-40% being from patent holding companies. And out of those filed by practicing entities, only a smallish proportion are like this one, a small company using the patent system to protect itself against a large corporation. A huge proportion of patent suits are trench wars between large companies, often used as a negotiating tactic. A decent

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044)

      I tend to agree but then I have not seen the patents yet. Hardware patents I feel are fine for the most part. It is stupid software patents that get to me.
      The question is what did they patent. I mean is a two screen device going to be patentable? Couldn't you claim the Nintendo DS as prior art since people have used it as a book reader?
      As I said I have not read the patents so I am not sure where I stand on this but yes it could be a good use for patent law.

  • I'm shocked... simply shocked that a large company would ever screw over a small player like this. God knows I can't think of anything like this happening before. Well, not for the last few minutes, at least.

  • by straponego (521991) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:02PM (#29968120)

    This case actually may be as legitimate as they come. Seriously, if these guys had NDAs and B&N pulled a Microsoft on them, they have my sympathy-- though this was the obvious way to make a new e-reader, these days. Linux, and now Android linux, are the obvious choices for the OS on any consumer device these days. You'd have to be morons not to have seen that (for Linux, ~6 years ago-- sorry Palm, too late; for Android, basically on announcement).

    But in general, every new tech product or service that comes out in the US seems to be hit by lawsuits as soon as it appears it will be successful. At the very least this reduces competition and increases prices. It's also a huge boon to countries which don't give a rat's ass about IP (see China). We're killing ourselves. The US has become a terrible environment for innovation.
    • by Dan Ost (415913)

      If the trade secrets and patents revolve around using some particular flavor of Linux on this kind of device, then there's nothing here. Being the first to use Linux on a particular kind of device isn't patentable. If you solved novel problems to get Linux on your device, then maybe the solutions to those problems might be patentable, but only if the solutions aren't obvious.

    • by Eil (82413)

      I don't know which company is in the right on this, but I feel the need to point out that adding a color touchscreen to an otherwise ordinary ebook reader is not really that novel a concept.

      In fact, when I first read about the Nook, I thought it was a ridiculous idea... why not just live with monochrome and make the whole display a touch-screen like the Sony reader? But I guess it's a reasonable stop-gap for web, video, and games until e-Ink technology can be made to work in color and with a decent refresh

    • by dangitman (862676)

      though this was the obvious way to make a new e-reader, these days.

      Eh, what? The obvious way to make an eBook reader these days is to waste space by putting a power-consuming, small color LCD underneath the e-Ink screen, that performs ancillary functions, rather than having a larger e-Ink screen? I'm not sure what kind of designer that is obvious to.

  • Could this actually be the copyright law protecting the Inventors/Developers from a deep pocketed infringer? I'll reserve judgement, but if copyright law actually HELPS the people who put in the hard work.... wow.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      It has nothing whatever to do with copyrights. It has to do with patents and trade secrets.

      These patents will run out in twenty years. If it were copyrights you'd be dead before they ran out.

  • Once they are patented, they aren't secret anymore. It looks like B&N might have been using those secrets to develop something, but I don't think the idea of a dual screen is all that revolutionary.. only slightly different format than some handheld games.
    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      The dual screens of the Nintendo DS does come to mind, but the biggest "duh" is from, of course, paper books.

    • IANAL, but my understanding is that you have rights to an invention it it's either 1) patented, or 2) a trade secret. Not both - by definition, stuff that's patented isn't a secret anymore - you've published the design. The linked article doesn't say anything about trade secrets, just patents - it seems the mistake is in the summary.
  • How does this not fall under the obvious clause? There are millions of these [wikipedia.org] on shelves everywhere already.
    • by 2obvious4u (871996) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:11PM (#29968266)
      I guess its not so obvious, I pictured it more like a Nintendo DS with dual screens in a binder like setting. Whats the point of having two screens on the same page.... Two screens that open like a book, now that is an obvious use of multiple screens. Maybe I should patent it quick...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Idbar (1034346)
      Isn't that always the case? Any invention is obvious as soon as someone else invented it.
      • Isn't that always the case? Any invention is obvious as soon as someone else invented it.

        Actually, it's funny that you mention that, only because the stuff my company makes is for such a niche market, that our stuff is one of the few things that doesn't follow that rule.

        We're not the inventors of this stuff, just making new products for an existing market, but did you know that there is a pretty good market for underwater torque measurement?

        It's funny when I tell people I build that stuff... they just look at me like... "why would you need to do that...?".

        Heh.
        -Taylor

    • by Renraku (518261)
      The book part is obvious, but then, so are wheels on cars. The unique and unpredictable part is the design. The Kindle is a single screen PDA type system, and Spring's design is a two screen system. Consumers will choose whichever one they like the best, and the patent is to prevent the Kindle 2 from copying Spring's design when Spring wins the competition.
  • Ah (Score:5, Funny)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:07PM (#29968202) Journal
    So the nook is the kindle killer, while Spring is the BN killer. Makes sense to me.
    So what good is a hook to a nook, if the nook makes cannot read the future.
    They can not do a cookbook on a nook, since they just got the hook. (apologies).
  • Sigh (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:20PM (#29968406) Homepage Journal

    The word patent means open or visible. Honours in England are granted by "letters patent" which are sealed in an open, i.e. readable, form. The meaning carries through into law; something can be a trade secret or patented but not both.

    So how their patents, which they shared with a) B&N and b) every literate person in the world, can be a secret is a mystery to me.

  • What's patentable? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slim (1652) <john.hartnup@net> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:20PM (#29968410) Homepage

    OK, we all want to support the underdog here. I know I do.

    But seriously, what new, patentable ideas, do you need in an eBook? Make a computer (covered by existing patents), give it an e-paper screen (existing patents) an input device (touch screen, keyboard, rollerball, touchpad - all existing patents), storage (existing patents), OS (existing patents) and some applications (most notably, an eBook reader - existing patents).

    I know people patent all kinds of obvious ideas, but I can't for the life of me see any novel ideas that need solving, cobbling together existing components into an eBook.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      but I can't for the life of me see any novel ideas that need solving, cobbling together existing components into an eBook

      If you could have come up with the idea off-hand in writing up a reply to a Slashdot article, it wouldn't be much in the way of a novel idea, would it?

    • by icebike (68054)

      My bet is they are claiming dual screens are a big deal. (Which is not true. Lots of devices have two screens, and some of them (cell phone) can probably read ebooks).

      They do not specifically suggest in their press release that any patents are being violated: http://egether.com/release/52/ [egether.com]

  • B&N may well have been careful to have "firewalled" off the team that evaluated each of the readers (no doubt there were many potential suppliers). In fact, it would be surprising if a large and experienced company didn't take reasonable precautions regarding NDAs.

    The various potential suppliers may individually and/or collectively feel miffed that they weren't selected. If they have acquired (or are in the process of acquiring) various patents they may well get some of the action in any event.

    Of course

  • It's telling that Spring's press release uses more space extolling the virtues of its product than describing the situation behind the suit. It's also curious that the primary features it hypes "full Internet browsing while reading" and "interactive multi-media open Internet access", while the nook won't even have a Web browser. B&N basically says they might add one later, if the users want it. This is totally a wait and see situation, because right now it's not at all clear who the bad guy is.
  • What was B&N thinking when they named a product the "nooky book reader"?

  • by jackspenn (682188) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @12:08AM (#29973330)
    So I read about this on Google News, looked up the Spring Design Inc's site and read a section on their page that said:

    ... has been working with major book stores, newspapers and publishers over the last 2 years, sharing the vision and the capabilities of the dual screen device.

    So I contact Spring Design rep and asked a simple question (this was about 1 hr before my T-Mobile G1 went bye bye for the evening). I asked "Did you have any contact with BN about your device prior to the release of the Nook?"

    Woman explained she was not speaking on behalf of company, but when I pressed she said that the simple answer was "yes", but the best way to understand was to read to court filing. I was then able to get her to e-mail the court filing to me. Social engineering at it's finest.

    It blew my mind it documents how Spring Design was contacted by Phil Baker (A strategy and development consultant for BN) back in February of this year after the Kindle 2 was released. Not hard to prove call or e-mail, it then includes NDA that was signed by BN prior to meeting with Spring Design, and that pretty much seals the deal, as it has non-compete and nondisclosure sections BN walked right over. Then outlines various meetings, conf calls, e-mails, power points, etc. that continued while Spring Design was led to believe BN would be partnering to use their device.

    The really brazen part is it went as high as the CFO of BN and that as late aa 10/1/09 BN was meeting with Spring Design's CEO supposedly over partnering deal, but they still needed to know this and that about how ALEX device worked.

    Better still is on a press call given my Willaim J Lynch at BN, Mr. Lynch who was given various Spring Design's concepts and information, actually refers to product screen benefits exactly as outlined by Spring Design to him. He says on the transcript of call that BN is releasing the first dual screen e-reader, yet e-mail sent by him and included as exhibit shows he was privy to Spring's Design product.

    Then there is the helpful advice BN gave Spring Design where BN staff recommended Spring Design not talk to Amazon, because (as BN says) Amazon is the kind of company that is likely to steal Spring Design's proprietary information rather then form a partnership as BN was planning.

    So my question to /. is should I post the PDF briefing on wikileak.org? There is nothing that says I cannot and it should be available via open records request to the court it was filed in (Northern District of California, San Jose Division). Only thing is it is marked copy and has a series of numbers on it that could linked to the version e-mailed to me. I do not want to hurt Spring Design's case, but I do want to get inform out there.

For God's sake, stop researching for a while and begin to think!

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