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Microsoft Sues Over a Feature Windows Phone 7 Lacks

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Microsoft today sued Barnes and Noble, claiming that Android (s goog)-powered Nook devices infringe on Microsoft patents. The complains also names Nook manufacturers Foxconn and Inventec, and reveals that HTC signed a licensing deal with Microsoft (s msft) to avoid a similar lawsuit even as year-long discussions with Barnes and Noble (s bks) broke down.

Let me state upfront that any company has the right (an obligation, really) to protect its patented ideas. However, after reading the Microsoft blog post with examples of the alleged patent infringement at the heart of its case against Barnes and Noble, you’d think that Microsoft built the leading mobile user interface and should be the king of all things mobile. The reality is that Windows Mobile hasn’t been able to compete with iOS (s aapl) nor Android. While fresh and fun to use, Windows Phone 7 isn’t yet gaining much market share. Here are some the examples direct from Microsoft to illustrate both the patent infringement claims; perhaps you see some of the absurdity that I notice:

  • Give people easy ways to navigate their device apps via a separate control window with tabs.
  • Enable display of a webpage’s content before the background image is received, allowing users to interact with the page faster.
  • Allow apps to superimpose download status on top of the downloading content.
  • Permit users to easily select text in a document and adjust that selection.
  • Provide users the ability to annotate text without changing the underlying document.

Again, if Microsoft holds patents for such mobile device interactions, it has an obligation to defend its patent rights. However, by some token, the situation reminds of me a line in the first Austin Powers movie where Dr. Evil says his father “would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark.” In looking through the examples Microsoft chose to share, it appears to me that many are standard user interface actions seen on any number of connected devices. In fact can’t remember the last time I used any browser that didn’t violate the second bullet because the browsers I use all show text on a website while background images load.

My fourth point is perhaps the most ironic, since most of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 devices that shipped prior to this month can’t yet select text and do anything with it. Once Microsoft pushes out an update, which is already late due to testing and carrier issues, then the handsets can select and paste text. Newer phones shipping now, such as the HTC Arrive, have this feature, but it’s still ironic. I realize that the bullet point in question likely applies more to e-book content than anything else, but some could interpret it to apply to any document text on a mobile device, such as a Microsoft Office document on a Windows Phone 7 handset.

The situation makes Microsoft look like it can’t compete in the mobile space, partially because its been slow to implement, even when it has good ideas. Instead of coming across like a competitive technological powerhouse, the company appears more like a sore loser at the moment. Perhaps it would appear less so if had simply filed action in court and left it at that, instead of issuing a press release and follow up blog post.

Clearly it will take less effort and money for Microsoft to go after companies that build and sell Android-powered products as opposed to Google itself. And as Microsoft reveals, HTC already has cut a deal so that it can continue manufacturing Google Android handsets even as it makes a few Windows Phone 7 devices. But the list of those that use Android to build devices grows by the day: even a treadmill I recently purchased uses Google Android, although I don’t know if the implementation infringes upon any patents.

Ideally, Microsoft would work out an licensing agreement or out-of court settlement with Google and leave the device makers out of the equation. The company is already far behind its peers in the mobile space so why not focus on making a good operating system with potential even better in Windows Phone 7? Maybe the time and effort on this lawsuit would be better served by adding features that customers want; like copy and paste, for example.

13 Responses to “Microsoft Sues Over a Feature Windows Phone 7 Lacks”

  1. MS isn’t stupid. Why take on huge corporations when winning a battle (setting precedence) against a smaller company will give them a winning base against all others. If they have the patent and someone is infringing on it – it is their right to protect it. Doesn’t matter what that is, light bulb or a visual tab – their patent, their right.

  2. Re: “Maybe the time and effort on this lawsuit would be better served by adding features that customers want; like copy and paste, for example.”

    Kevin, surely you know the difference between lawyers and software engineers? The former negotiate or sue, the latter write code.

    Sadly this article is another example of why I visit jkontherun less and less. Lots of punditry and no more substance. Did Om send out one of those AOL manifestos, too? Kevin, I know you can do better!

    • Indeed I do know the difference and appreciate the feedback. Bear in mind that leadership (and how budget dollars are spent in an organization) comes from the top at Microsoft, so the company is making a choice to spend time, effort and dollars on litigation vs. strategic development initiatives. Question back to you though: what do you think of the lawsuit and how would you have reported it differently? I shared my opinion — one that’s pretty pervasive and similar in much of the other coverage I read — so I’m curious to hear yours. Thx!

  3. If Microsoft would have earned its position with ingenuity and fairness there would be a slight sympathy in the marketplace for such moves. But beside the fact that these patents are ridiculous Microsoft doesn’t deserve protection. Who lives by the sword dies by the sword. There is a long list of companies which where treated brutally unfair by Microsoft (e.g. Borland, Novell, IBM). So why anybody in the world beside greedy lawyers should care if some stupid patents could have been violated in a text-reader. The picture which Microsoft is drawing is more than poor. Instead of creating good products and pushing technology forward like Apple is doing it we see here only a poor attempt of protecting vested rights which are hindering progress for everybody in the market, Microsoft included. Customers make decision also on basis of sympathy. Seen from my subjective perspective Microsoft has such a bad reputation and track-record that I am not longer willing to support an incompetent company with such a destructive approach and outdated products. Microsoft needs urgently a change in his management and “political” direction – otherwise their importance will fade significantly.

  4. Mike Reilly

    Windows Mobile should leverage Windows 7 strengths, as a mini-Windows 7.
    1) For example, I’m waiting to buy iPhone 5, but if MS put the great Windows inking and text recognition on WM7 (probably along with N-Trig), I would change my tune. I could use it in the field and the office/classroom to take notes and sketches.
    2) Similarly, if apps used a Windows lite OS, and the apps could also run on Windows 7, there would be a benefit of scale throughout the system, and I would buy more apps (if MS let me put them on one phone and one computer.
    3) In addition, the WM OS could run Windows inexpensive tablets (w/ N-Trig), and be an overlay over Windows 7 on more expensive tablets(w/ Wacom touch/pen).
    I think that only Apple could do anything similar, but Windows could win because they have the most computers. It would definitely create a new paradigm.
    (This would work if MS could still think creatively enough, like Apple.)

  5. Rapilian

    theres no question that MS & Apple both are scared to death of Google, primarily for the way Google has entered into “their” markets & found out how too make money that isnt under traditional terms (HW/SW sales). it’s not a coincidence that MS is suing Android manufactures or that Jobs cant go 5 minutes during any keynote to remind us how “bad” Android is for us.

    it’s simply a case of new industry replacing old industry. while obviously MS is in a very bad place right now, Apple isnt much better after watching their marketshare stall at 24% for an entire year when at one time in 2009 it looked as if they were going to overtake the entire industry.

    it doesnt matter how much money either of these companies has in the bank, once the trend has bucked against you it’s nearly impossible to reverse.

  6. Jabberwolf

    Funny but Apple is still King of frivolous patent suits.

    I did a search of patent disputes in the last week with MS and I had to sift through about a dozen articles and patent suits that were filed by Apple !! Most of which were even more so frivolous.
    Yet funny how people seem to concentrate on MS who does this a fraction of the time?!

    • jabberwolf

      BTW – MS has rights to these features that it WANTS to/PLANNING to put into its OS, but someone else is doing it and they themselves dont hold the patents.

      Since when ISNT that fair to do?

      In the meantime while you troll bloggers concentrate on MS, I’ll look at the Apple suit against Amazone for using “Appstore” which is too close for Apple’s “App Store”.

      Apple!! App is an acronym, you dont own the English language!!

  7. Lucian Armasu

    If Microsoft had something real here they’d go after Apple too with these patents, and even after Google! But of course they are not doing that because they know their claims are pretty ridiculous and they simply want to scare Android manufacturers in paying up.

    Btw, I thought HTC made the deal with Microsoft so it gets protection against Apple, not necessarily because Microsoft scared them into paying up.

  8. NEXT: Microsoft will patent the ability to select, copy, and paste text, while using a treadmill.

    What we see here is an abuse of the patent system. If Microsoft had any valid argument about Android, it would take on the big one, and challenge Google.

    Instead, Microsoft abuses the system, going after smaller players to scare them, and scare others (hence the press release).

    This will only persuade the public not to buy Windows Phones.