November 4, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka
On Monday it was announced that Spring Design had filed suit against Barnes & Noble over the similarities of their Android-based e-readers. According to the lawsuit, those similarities are no coincidence – it’s theft.
Spring alleges that Barnes & Noble requested previews of its Alex ereader and hinted at possible partnerships, never revealing that their company would release a device strikingly similar to Spring’s patent-pending, dual-screen, Android-based ereader.
Two legal teams are about to clock some serious billable hours from this case. Here are the details of how we got to this point, according to the allegations from Spring [Barnes & Noble has not responded to the lawsuit publicly]:
Spring Design claims that the same month Amazon released the Kindle 2 (February 2009), B&N consultant Phil Baker invited Spring employees to discuss electronic readers. The two parties entered into a non-disclosure agreement (an agreement not to discuss, copy, or share any confidential information covered in the meeting).
Spring alleges it revealed concepts for the Alex ereader in a PowerPoint presentation and Phil Baker said that he had never seen such an advanced electronic reader design. In July 2009, a B&N employee requested a summary of Spring’s development and claimed she was “looking forward to working more.” Spring sent over a list of specs and features, most of which ended up appearing in the Nook. They also demoed the Alex, showing ideas for:
- An Android-based dual-screen ereader with electronic paper display (EPD) for reader and an LCD screen for navigation
- A “sharing” feature that connects users who want to “share your virtual bookshelf or library.”
Obviously, those are two major features of the Nook that Spring says Barnes & Noble stole. Ironically, Spring claims that a B&N exec told them to “not consider Amazon as a content partner, because Amazon was likely to steal Spring’s unique idea without every buying anything from Spring.”
The Lawsuit’s Consequences
The court filings state:
An injunction prohibiting B&N from further use or disclosure of trade secrets – in particular, to prevent any further sales of the Nook and/or any other products using Spring’s trade secrets – is necessary to provide Spring complete relief.
An injunction is a court order that forbids parties from taking certain actions. In this case, Spring seeks an injunction that would block Barnes & Noble from selling the Nook. If such an order is issued, Barnes & Noble would miss out on an opportunity to debut during the favorable holiday season. Not to mention that they would still face potentially heavy losses defending themselves in court or paying out monetary damages at trial.
Lawsuits centered around patents and intellectual property often end in settlements in which the bigger company pays off the little guy to go away. We may see something worked out where Barnes & Noble pays Spring monetary damages and money to license their ideas. However, I highly doubt we’ll see any such settlement in the next three weeks, which could put the Nook’s 2009 debut in jeopardy.