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Microsoft’s anti-Android, cross-licensing strategy exposed by Barnes & Noble

Ever wonder what patents Microsoft has been using to sign up Android vendors such as Samsung, HTC, Huawei, Acer, and over 10 others in cross-licensing agreements? Just last week Barnes & Noble asked US regulators to probe Microsoft’s anti-Android strategy, which sees the company collecting millions in profits from royalties paid by just about anyone shipping Android on their devices.

In their initial letter to the Department of Justice, Barnes & Noble claims Microsoft’s patents “cover only arbitrary, outmoded and non-essential design features,” and today we get a look into exactly what they’re talking about thanks to a detailed report from Groklaw of the exhibits attached to B&N’s letter.

Below B&N walks us through some of the patents Microsoft claims the Nook infringes on and also describes their stance for each. These could very well be some of the same patents the company is using to collect royalties from other Android vendors, patents B&N describe as only covering “trivial and non-essential design elements in Android”.

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….

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….

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….

Below we get a little insight into Barnes & Noble’s perspective as they break down how Microsoft has, as of yet, been unable to explain its claims B&N’s Nook devices infringe on the above patents. The letter explains:

In July 2010, Microsoft first met with Barnes & Noble to discuss “patent issues” related to Barnes & Noble’s eReader. Microsoft specifically alleged that Barnes & Noble’s NookTM was infringing six patents purportedly owned by Microsoft. When Barnes and Noble asked Microsoft for more detailed information related to these patents, Microsoft refused, claiming that the information was confidential and could not be shared unless Barnes & Noble first executed a non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”). Because both the patents and Barnes & Noble’s NookTM product are public — meaning there was no need for an NDA — Barnes & Noble refused to sign one. In December 2010, Microsoft and Barnes & Noble then met to discuss Microsoft’s assertions of patent infringement. In this meeting, Microsoft claimed that its patents were sufficient to entirely dominate and control the use of the Android by the NookTM or Nook ColorTM, but Microsoft again refused to provide the basis for these claims unless Barnes & Noble entered into an NDA. To move the process forward, Barnes & Noble agreed to a very narrow NDA — one limited in scope to discussions relating to Microsoft’s claim charts at this single meeting.

Then, after meeting with Microsoft in December 2010, where B&N agreed to sign a “very narrow NDA”, the discussions continued:

In January of 2011, Microsoft then sent a proposed patent license agreement to Barnes & Noble. Although, as noted, the NDA executed in December was narrow and applied only to discussions of claim charts, Microsoft asserted that its proposed license agreement was confidential and subject to this NDA (which it is not). This proposed licensing agreement covered Barnes & Noble’s use of Android on its existing eReader devices but is structured in such as way as to presume that Microsoft’s portfolio of patents dominate, and thereby control, the entire Android operating system and any devices that use Android. Indeed, the proposed license would have severely limited and, in some cases, entirely eliminated Barnes & Noble’s ability to upgrade or improve the NookTMor Nook ColorTM, even though Microsoft’s asserted patents have nothing to do with such improvements.

Microsoft’s reasons for going after Android are pretty clear, and so far, they’ve been successful on their mission to bully absolutely every Android vendor into handing over royalties for their Android-powered devices. Still, Barnes & Noble’s stance on the situation is clear, and worth reading:

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….

Instead of focusing on innovation and the development of new products for consumers, Microsoft has decided to invest its efforts into driving open source developers from the mobile operating systems market. Through the use of offensive licensing agreements and the demand for unreasonable licensing fees, Microsoft is hindering creativity in the mobile operating systems market…. Through the use of oppressive licensing terms that amount to a veto power over a wide variety of innovative features in Android devices of all kinds, as well as its prohibitively expensive licensing fees, Microsoft is attempting to push open source software developers out of the market altogether.

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Avatar for Jordan Kahn Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s weekly Logic Pros series and makes music as one half of Toronto-based Makamachine.