Is the Nook a Crook?

By Tom Peters |

Everything I read and hear about the forthcoming Nook portable eReading device from Barnes & Noble (, including Jason Griffey’s post here on the TechSource blog, indicates that the Nook will be a significant new development in the burgeoning portable eReader device market.  It may become the much-anticipated Kindle Killer.  

The Nook clearly is not a crock, but earlier this week, a news release raised another question:  Is the Nook a Crook?

On November 2, 2009 a small company based in Fremont, California called Spring Design, Inc. issued a news release stating that Barnes & Noble has misappropriated trade secrets and violated a non-disclosure agreement into which the two companies had entered.  As a result, Spring Design has filed a lawsuit against Barnes & Noble. At issue is the similarities in design and functionality between the Nook and the Alex, a dual-screen, Android-driven portable eReading device that Spring Design has been designing since 2006. Both were publicly announced within a few days of each other last month

It’s not just a happy coincidence, Spring Design asserts.  Throughout most of 2009 Spring Design and B&N have had ongoing conversations and meetings about a dual-screen portable eReading device.   Representatives from Spring Design thought the conversations and meetings might lead to a business partnership.  They say they were completely surprised and flabbergasted when the Nook was announced.

  The news release from Spring Design states, “Since the beginning of 2009, Spring and Barnes & Noble worked within a non-disclosure agreement, including many meetings, emails and conference calls with executives ranging up to the president of Barnes and, discussing confidential information regarding the features, functionality and capabilities of Alex. Throughout, Barnes & Noble's marketing and technical executives extolled Alex's "innovative" features, never mentioning their use of those features until the public disclosure of the Nook.” 

The damages sought through this lawsuit and the jurisdiction in which it was filed were not specified in the new release, but a PC Magazine article posted on Tuesday (,2817,2355246,00.asp) states that Spring Design has asked the court to stop production of the Nook and award damages to Spring. While the Google Books Settlement may be a much bigger fish frying in the pan of the emerging portable eReading culture, society, and economy, this smaller lawsuit provides further validation of my short list of key indicators that something significant is happening in some new technological, um, nook (small n) or cranny.  Here’s my list:

  • Obligatory Format War:  PDF versus ePub, check
  • Lots of big players rushing into the market:  Amazon, Sony, Google, Barnes & Noble, check
  • Lots of media coverage, perhaps verging on hype:  check
  • Lots of lawsuits and general saber rattling:  check

Commenting on the merits of this lawsuit here and now would be fruitless.  It is too soon to tell which party, if either, is at fault.  We can only hope that eventually justice will prevail, and that lawsuits, which often crop up as new technologies take root, will not choke the new growth and permanently mar the landscape.