Spring Design Will Debut Alex E-Reader at CES
Spring Design will debut the Alex, its e-reader, in a two-day rollout during the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. While a wide variety of electronics will also make their debut during the convention, Spring Design's Alex may attract a good deal of media attention due to its somewhat controversial nature: Spring Design is alleging in court that Barnes & Noble stole the Alex's design to create their own e-reader, the Nook.
While that case has yet to be
settled in court, the attendant publicity will likely benefit Spring Design when
it hosts media lunches on Jan. 7 and 8.
On Oct. 19, a day before Barnes
& Noble's Nook made its debut in a high-profile event on
New York City's West
Side, Spring Design announced the Alex. Both companies' e-readers
feature a 6-inch monochrome e-ink display, paired to an iPhone-like touch screen
capable of displaying multimedia content, and run on the Google Android
According to Spring Design, the
similarities were not purely coincidental; on Nov. 2, the company announced that
it would sue Barnes & Noble over the alleged misappropriation of the Alex
design for the latter's Nook. A few days later, on Nov. 11, Spring Design filed
its first amended complaint over the issue.
Barnes & Noble told eWEEK in
a Nov. 3 email that it has no comment on pending litigation, as a matter of
"Spring Design unfortunately had
to take appropriate action to protect its intellectual property rights," Eric
Kmiec, Spring Design's vice president of sales and marketing, said in a Nov. 2
statement. "We showed the Alex e-book design to Barnes & Noble in good faith
with the intention of working together to provide a superior dual screen e-book
to the market."
However, Spring Design's lawsuit
experienced something of a setback on Dec. 1, when the U.S. District Court for
the Northern District of California turned down its injunction to halt sales of
"Based on the papers submitted to
date and oral argument, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary
the court order, signed by United States District Judge James Ware on Dec.
1. "The Court finds that at this time there is a genuine dispute over whether
the [Nook] was derived from information disclosed by Plaintiff to Defendant or
was the product of earlier independent development by Defendant."
In addition, "Plaintiff's motion
was heard on the day that Defendant launched its [Nook] product, at which time
Plaintiff did not have a commercial product available," added the order. "Thus,
the requested preliminary injunction halting the sale of the Defendant's product
would alter the status quo, not preserve it."
Despite being dismissed by some
analysts as ultimately a niche product, e-readers became a must-have holiday
item for the holiday 2009 season. Retail cost of the devices has fallen, with
Amazon.com lowering the price of its Kindle 2 to $259 in order to match the
price of the Nook. Despite mixed early reviews of the Nook from prominent media
outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, Barnes
& Noble claims that extraordinarily heavy demand for the devices has delayed
their shipping to many customers before the first week of January 2010.
In a Dec. 1 research note by
financial advisory group Collins Stewart, analyst Sandeep Aggarwal estimated
that Amazon.com would sell as many as 550,000 Kindle devices in 2009, resulting
in revenue of $301.4 million for the year.
Neither Barnes & Noble nor
Amazon.com, considered the top competitors in the e-reader space along with
Sony, have offered a breakdown of their sales numbers. In a recent interview with Newsweek,
Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos indicated that "Kindle book sales are 48 percent
of the physical sales" of books for the online retailer, up from 35 percent in
If Bezos's statement (as well as Barnes & Noble's claims about demand for the Nook) is taken at face value, then the e-reader market can be assumed to be a rapidly expanding one. In which case, Spring Design may feel it well worth both the legal battle and push against larger competitors, if by doing so the company can claim even a small percentage of that market.