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Summary:

Somehow a lawsuit had to be lurking … Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS), which took a spin on the floor with just about everyone before announcin…

Alex and Nook

Somehow a lawsuit had to be lurking … Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS), which took a spin on the floor with just about everyone before announcing its own e-reader, is being sued by Spring Design for misappropriation of trade secrets and violating a non-disclosure agreement. Cupertino-based Spring claims B&N “copied” features from its dual-screen Alex into the Nook. The Nook has a 6-inch grayscale screen for reading with a 3.5″ color LCD below for touchscreen navigation; Alex includes Duet Navigator as a trademark. Both are based on Android. (Update: We’ve posted the lawsuit.)

Spring Design says it started filing patents on Alex in 2006; the patent on Duet Navigator is pending. Starting on Feb. 12, 2009, spring 2009 (the lawsuit contradicts the press release), Spring says it worked with B&N under an NDA. We haven’t seen the lawsuit yet but the press release claims that through meetings, e-mails and calls, “Barnes & Noble’s marketing and technical executives extolled Alex’s “innovative” features, never mentioning their use of those features until the public disclosure of the Nook.”

When Alex was announced literally on the eve of the Nook, Engadget raised the idea that a lawsuit wouldn’t be far off: “Judging by the hastily prepared web site coincidentally appearing on the eve of the B&N device launch, and the domain’s registrar, Albert Teng, who has numerous patent applications (not patents granted) covering ‘electronic devices having complementary dual-displays,’ we’d say this announcement is quite possibly a desperate attempt to lay claim on intellectual property rights instead of a real product with real manufacturers and real content partners. We’ll see when, or if, it launches.”

But Alex is included in the list of chip partners Marvell (NASDAQ: MRVL) Techonology Group offers in the press release announcing its Armada chip.

  1. Touche Spring Design. Now if your offering makes up for the pitfalls the nook has then you should be able compete quite handily. If competing is what youre after that is. It's a shame B&N had to steal tech in order to make their digital content more appealing. They just still dont get it do they!

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  2. They started talks with B & N in the spring of 2009? Wow, I didn't know that B & N could steal the design, and get it into manufacturing, and into the stores in the space of a few months.

    Has to be a record.

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  3. Internet Lawyer Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    In these situations, non-disclosure agreements are not very strong defenses. Many companies in the e-book universe (like B&N) were likely to be looking at various e-reader designs at the time Alex was shown. Without something more substantial (like a patent), it is likely that B&N would be fine relying on one of the standard exceptions to NDA (e.g. independent development). As Internet and IP Lawyer, i would advise more caution when first considering pitching ideas to large companies. http:///www.web20lawyer.com

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  4. Staci D. Kramer Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    @ Shelley — Finally got a copy of the suit which says it dates back to February, 2009.

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