Tuesday, March 17, 2009


How much trouble can one website's piece of proprietary technology cause? Amazon's Kindle might be going for the record previously held by Napster.

Jon Hendricks, the founder of Discovery Communications Inc has lodged a claim against Amazon over the Kindle's ecryption technology. Hendricks claims to have filed a patent for an e-Reader with an encryption/decryption protocol that is close enough to that used by the Kindle to warrant a claim of infingement.

The patent in question - US Patent # 7,298,851 - was issued 20 November 2007 with a filing date of 21 September 1999. While I am by no means ignorant of the mechanics of computers, I'm not a patent attorney, or a cryptanalyst. So parsing the technical details of this is a bit beyond me. If you are either of those things, let me know. I'd love to hear a professional take on this. I'll buy you a cup of coffee.

The stories I have read thus far in major media outlets do not make clear why his patent is dated the same month Kindle debuted (Novemer 2007). Since my wife is an engineer, I am all too aware of the long lead-times incumbent in the debut of any new product. This means the Kindle's existence, including the hardware and (presumably) the encryption software would have been in-place long before they began rolling off the assembly line. (We'll ignore for the moment my surprise that Discovery was apparently thinking of the eBooks as their next venture.)

We have all basically accepted that, eventually, the eBook will be the new paradigm for publishing. When and how are the only concerns yet to be addressed. Much though I love the feel of a physcial book of pasteboard, buckram and paper, I too look forward on some level to a day when a library will look suspiciously like a hard drive from which you download your daily reading.

The battle now isn't over whether we will enter a world of wholly-electronic books. It's about when. How the rights will be paid and controlled. And what parts of the old system shall have to be sacrificed to make way for the new one. And whose technology will dominate that new market. How the authors and publishers will be able to make a living from this new marketplace. Readers who need to be convinced that a book you cannot touch is worth every bit as much as one that you can. That the ideas and the content are what constitutes the value as opposed to the physical object of paper and paste.

Nevertheless, the battle of the moment is who owns the technology. But what's at stake is the idea of what is a book? And what is that worth to you? Print isn't dead, and I'm not sure any of us will live to see it's utter demise, but it is in transition from one phase to the next. And the future is as wide open as the lawyers will allow it to be...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).