March 22, 2011, 1:44 PM

Microsoft sues Barnes & Noble over the Nook’s use of the Android operating system

The suit relates to text display, annotations and other functions important to e-readers.

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Microsoft Corp. has sued Barnes & Noble Inc., as well as the manufacturers of the bookseller’s Nook electronic book reader, for patent infringement related to the device’s use of Google Inc.’s Android operating system.

The complaints, filed yesterday in federal court in Seattle and with the U.S. International Trade Commission, allege that Barnes & Noble, Foxconn International Holdings Ltd. and Inventec Corp. violate five Microsoft patents with the Nook.

The patents are not specifically tied to e-readers. Rather, they cover a range of Android-enabled functions that Microsoft says are core to the user experience, such as enabling consumers to annotate text, as well as the device’s ability to display text before a background image has downloaded.

The suit is part of Microsoft’s broad plan to maintain control of its intellectual property, the company says.

“Microsoft is not a company that pursues litigation lightly,” wrote Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, in a blog post. “In fact, this is only our seventh proactive patent infringement suit in our 36-year history. But we simply cannot ignore infringement of this scope and scale.”

To avoid legal action, some manufacturers using the Android operating system, such as HTC, have reached patent-licensing agreements with Microsoft. Amazon.com Inc. similarly signed a patent license with Microsoft last year related to its Kindle e-reader.

Microsoft says that it filed the complaint yesterday after having tried for more than a year to reach a similar agreement with Barnes & Noble, Foxconn and Inventec.“Their refusals to take licenses leave us no choice but to bring legal action to defend our innovations and fulfill our responsibility to our customers, partners and shareholders to safeguard the billions of dollars we invest each year to bring great software products and services to market,” he says.

Barnes & Noble declined to comment on the suit and Foxconn and Inventec could not be reached for immediate comment. Barnes & Noble is No. 42 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

"Sweeping software patent claims like Microsoft's threaten innovation,” a Google spokeswoman says. “While we are not a party to this lawsuit, we stand behind the Android platform and the partners who have helped us to develop it."

Sreeram Ramachandran, senior software engineer at Google, will speak at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition 2011 in a session entitled “Do your web pages need a new fitness regimen?

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