Spring Design Will Feature Google Books on Its Alex E-Reader

Spring Design's Alex e-reader will feature Google Books for browsing and download. Although Spring Design will be one of several companies rolling out an e-reader at the Consumer Electronics Show, it may gain extra publicity from its recent lawsuit against Barnes & Noble, which it alleges misappropriated the Alex design for its own Nook e-reader. Both mobile devices include a dual e-ink and touch-screen display.

Spring Design announced on Jan. 5 that users of its Alex e-reader will have access to Google Books, days before company is to debut the device at the Consumer Electronics Show, held Jan. 7 to 10.

The collaboration allows access to more than 1 million Google Books online or for download through Alex's Web browser. The device, which features a 6-inch monochrome e-ink display for reading alongside an iPhone-like touch screen for navigation and multimedia content, relies on Google Android for its operating system. In addition to the standard-issue e-reader experience, the Alex will supposedly offer Internet browsing, Wi-Fi connectivity, access to Android applications, audio and video playback, and image viewing.

"Our relationship with Spring Design is helping to expand the number of ways people access e-books and search for information online, whether for business, education or entertainment," Google Product Manager Brandon Badger said in a Jan. 5 statement.

Spring Design is planning to roll out the Alex during a pair of media lunches on Jan. 7 and 8 in Las Vegas. With a number of companies planning to debut similar devices during CES, however, Spring Design's biggest publicity bump may come from its ongoing battle with Barnes & Noble, which Spring Design accuses of misappropriating the Alex design for its own Nook e-reader.

The Nook, which Barnes & Noble announced in October 2009, also features a dual-screen configuration, with an e-ink display and a touch screen. Spring Design announced on Nov. 2 that it would issue a lawsuit over the alleged similarities, followed by its filing an amended complaint on Nov. 11.

"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, the courts delivered a setback to Spring Design's hopes on Dec. 1, when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California turned down the smaller company's request for an injunction to halt sales of the Nook.

"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," read the court order, signed by United States District Judge James Ware on Dec. 1. "Thus, the requested preliminary injunction halting the sale of the Defendant's product would alter the status quo, not preserve it."

In an e-mail to eWEEK, Barnes & Noble said it does not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy.

E-readers became one of the hot sales items of the 2009 holiday season. Barnes & Noble reported on its Nook Website throughout the winter that devices ordered would not be delivered until either January or February, supposedly due to high demand, while Amazon.com continues to insist that its Kindle e-reader is the bestselling product on its site.

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. Spring Design, along with Barnes & Noble, Plastic Logic, Sony and other e-reader manufacturers, is looking for at least a portion of that sort of revenue.