A staff attorney at the ITC has stated that there is "no violation" by Barnes & Noble in its case with Microsoft, according to a report by Bloomberg. Microsoft initiated its case against Barnes & Noble last March, alleging that its Nook e-readers infringed five Microsoft patents. Microsoft has since shaved the number of patents in the case down to just three.

ITC proceedings follow a much different path than what we're used to seeing in federal court cases. Before the administrative law judge hands down a preliminary ruling on the infringement claims, the ITC staff attorney assigned to the case provides a recommendation to the judge. That's what happened here. The staff recommendation is not a binding ruling and mainly serves to assist the judge. The judge can, and often does, issue a decision that deviates in some way (sometimes significantly) from the staff recommendation.

This particular staff document isn't public at this time, so we don't know all of the reasoning behind it. Typically, findings that there hasn't been a violation are based on a belief that the patent isn't infringed, or that it's invalid. Either way, this preliminary word from the ITC is sure to be welcomed news to Barnes & Noble — one of the few companies out there that's rejected Microsoft's patent licensing terms and shown a willingness to go the distance in defending itself. We'll keep an eye out for the eventual ruling by the ITC judge.