Spring Design Sues Barnes & Noble; Claims Breach Of NDA

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.

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