Spring Design Fails to Stop Sales of Barnes and Noble's Nook E-Reader

Spring Design suffered a legal defeat on Dec. 1 when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California turned down its request to halt sales of Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader. Both the Nook and Spring Design's Alex e-reader feature dual screens and the Google Android operating system, leading Spring Design to allege that the Nook's designers copied its design. The Nook is encountering delays in shipping to customers, a problem that Barnes & Noble insists is due to high demand.

Spring Design, creator of the upcoming Alex e-reader, found itself suffering a legal defeat on Dec. 1 when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California turned down its injunction to halt sales of Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader. Spring Design alleges that the Nook, which is currently experiencing shipping delays due to what Barnes & Noble calls heavy consumer demand, is essentially a copy of the Alex device.

On Nov. 2, Spring Design originally announced that it was suing Barnes & Noble over the similarities between the e-readers. Court records show that Spring Design filed the first amended complaint on Nov. 11; the court conducted a further hearing on the matter on Nov. 30.

"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 statement issued on that date. "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."

Spring Design ended up announcing the Alex on Oct. 19, the day before Barnes & Noble debuted the Nook in a high-profile event in New York City. The Alex includes a 6-inch monochrome e-ink display, paired with a 3.5-inch color LCD touch screen capable of multimedia content. It runs on the Google Android operating system.

The Nook likewise includes a 6-inch e-ink display, paired to an iPhone-style touch screen that allows users to navigate the bookseller's online e-bookstore and purchase texts, and runs on Google Android. Barnes & Noble told eWEEK in an e-mail on Nov. 3 that it has no comment on pending litigation, as a matter of policy. The company is claiming that, due to heavy preorders, a very limited number of Nook devices will actually be available in its bricks-and-mortar stores over the holiday season, and that customers ordering online after Nov. 30 will not see their e-readers delivered until early January 2010.

Although Spring Design moved to stop sales of the Nook, the San Jose Division of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California evidently did not agree with the company's reasoning.

"Based on the papers submitted to date and oral argument, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction," read 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."

Moreover, "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 Defendant's product would alter the status quo, not preserve it."

The court case itself, however, will continue.