Friday, February 09, 2007

Patenting Book Pages

Ars reports that Amazon has been given a patent for showing you digital pages of meatspace books you have already bought. Read the patent, #7,174,054, for yourself.

An invention must be not obvious to a PHOSITA to be eligible for patent protection, so this story only adds to the ongoing debate over whether a new standard for obviousness is needed to prevent patents like this. Certainly, displaying books digitally is a fairly obvious "invention," though one wrinkle is that Amazon claims to do this with books you already own (though it's not much of a non-obvious addition either).

This may cause problems for Google's Book Search, which remains in a legal dispute with several book publishers over copyright issues. First, Amazon came out with Amazon Upgrade, which essentially one-upped Book Search by allowing fully usable (and searchable) versions of purchased books online. Now its patent for displaying books arguably covers any attempt to display books electronically. Not only may Google be affected, but its possible that portable electronic readers could run afoul of the patent as well. If the patent ends up giving Amazon total control over the digital book market, then it appears the publishers will end up getting their way in destroying any modern Library of Alexandria.

To be fair, it seems that Amazon was first to offer searching in books despite resistance from publishers.

Adding this to Amazon's infamous 1-Click patent, it seems that either they have pretty good patent attorneys or the patent system is certifiably broken. And given Amazon's willingness to enforce the 1-Click patent 28 days after getting it, don't be surprised to hear of someone getting a nastygram in the not too distant future.
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