Probe Of Microsoft Android Patent War Sought

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Barnes & Noble is asking US regulators to investigate Microsoft’s licensing war on Android

Microsoft’s seemingly one way battle against Android may encounter a bit of wobble after it was reported that Barnes & Noble wants federal regulators to investigate Redmond’s Android licensing policy for possible antitrust issues.

The bookseller had locked horns with Microsoft over the latter’s insistence that it be paid royalties for the use of Android on the Nook e-reader device.

Pay Up Or Else

For the past several quarters, Microsoft, insisting that Android violates certain key patents, has offered Android device manufacturers a choice: Pay us royalties for each unit you make, or risk a lawsuit. So far, the company has locked 10 manufacturers into agreements, with lawsuits in process against Barnes & Noble and Motorola Mobility.

According to Bloomberg, an 17 October letter from Barnes & Noble to the Justice Department describes Microsoft as “embarking on a campaign of asserting trivial and outmoded patents against manufacturers of Android devices” in order to “drive out competition and to deter innovation in mobile devices.”

The two companies’ patent-infringement battle will begin February 2012.

For its part, Microsoft argues that patent-licensing agreements are the key to industry innovation. “Over the past decade we’ve spent roughly $4.5 billion (£2.8bn) to license … patents from other companies,” Microsoft executive VP and General Counsel Brad Smith wrote in an 23 October note posted on the “Microsoft on the Issues” blog, co-authored by Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s corporate vice president and deputy general counsel. “These have given us the opportunity to build on the innovations of others in a responsible manner that respects their IP rights.”

Nook Tablet

Barnes & Noble recently unveiled the Nook tablet, a 7-inch multimedia device running Android, which will compete head-on this holiday season against Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Neither Barnes & Noble nor Amazon releases sales numbers for their respective e-readers, although it’s generally assumed that the Kindle maintains a healthy market-share lead over the Nook. Last year’s Nook Color was seen as a strong competitor to the grayscale Kindle. The Kindle Fire, which retails for $199 (£124) and will ship later this month, negated that advantage; it’s also cheaper than the Nook tablet.

Whether the Microsoft lawsuit complicates Barnes & Noble’s attempts to market the Nook tablet remains to be seen, but it’s doubtlessly an added complication the bookseller didn’t need heading into the holiday season. For its part, though, Barnes & Noble seems determined to fight back.

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