Microsoft 'misusing' patent law to kill Android

US bookseller Barnes & Noble has accused Microsoft of "misusing" patent law to "eliminate or maginalize" competition to its Windows Phone 7 smartphone OS - and even takes a personal swing at CEO Steve Ballmer.

The claims come in Barnes & Noble's 50-page response to a law suit filed by the software giant in March alleging patent infringement by the bookseller's Nook e-book reader, which uses Google's Android operating system, a rival to Windows Phone 7.

As we reported last month, Microsoft claims that the Nook violates five Microsoft patents, including "remote retrieval and display management of electronic document with incorporated images" and "loading status in a hypermedia browser having a limited available display area".

Microsoft refutes Google's claim that Android is a 'free' operating system, saying it incorporates technology over which the software giant holds patents. The Windows-making monopolist claims Android device manufacturers should pay Microsoft fees for using the technology in their products.

Microsoft's lawsuit against Barnes & Noble echoes an ongoing dispute with mobile maker Motorola, and also names hardware manufacturers Foxconn and Inventec - leading critics to accuse Microsoft of fighting a head-on clash with the economic might of Google. Instead, they claim, Microsoft trying to pick off individual maunfacturers in an attempt to freeze Android out of the market.

And that's exactly the argument Barnes & Noble's lawyers have hit back with, asserting:

"Microsoft is misusing these patents as part of a scheme to try to eliminate or marginalize the competition to its own Windows Phone 7 mobile device operating system posed by the open source Android operating system and other open source operating systems. Microsoft's conduct directly harms both competition for and consumers of eReaders, smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile electronic devices, and renders Microsoft's patents unenforceable."

On the specific counts of patent infringement, Barnes & Noble denies all accusations, stating:

"Barnes & Noble is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations of this paragraph relating to ownership of the '372, '780, '522, '551, and '233 patents, and, therefore, denies them."

The response goes on to accuse Microsoft of using patents on "arbitrary, outmoded, or non-essential design features" to demand "exorbitant licensing fees" or face "protracted and expensive" litigation - and alleges Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer of having "publicly stated that through its patents Microsoft can dominate, control, and exclude from the market the Android Operating System, other open source operating systems, and open source applications such as Google Chrome".

Microsoft talked smartphone maker HTC into signing a patent licensing agreement for its Android handsets last year. It remains to be seen if the lawsuits against Motorola and Barnes & Noble will ensure other manufacturers do likewise - or, as software giant would doubtless prefer, deter them from using Android altogether.