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5/5/2009
09:16 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Amazon Awarded Kindle Patent

In an unusual coincidence, one day before Amazon.com is scheduled to unveil a new, widescreen Kindle aimed at newspaper readers, the e-commerce giant has been awarded what appears to be its first United States patent related to the device. The new patent, D591,741, is a design patent which protects the look and feel of the Kindle shell, not for fundamental technologies.

In an unusual coincidence, one day before Amazon.com is scheduled to unveil a new, widescreen Kindle aimed at newspaper readers, the e-commerce giant has been awarded what appears to be its first United States patent related to the device. The new patent, D591,741, is a design patent which protects the look and feel of the Kindle shell, not for fundamental technologies.The patent, entitled "Electronic media reader," was granted on May 5 to Amazon Technologies Inc. of Seattle, Wash. (New patents, like CDs and DVDs, are released on Tuesdays.) The inventors listed are Symon Whitehorn and Gregg Zehr. The patent is D591,741.

The "D" preceeding the Amazon patent number stands for "Design Patent." Design patents are for ornamental designs -- in this case, the case of the Kindle -- as opposed to technologically oriented patents.

Since it is a design patent, there isn't much verbiage in Amazon's submission. All it says is that the patent is for "the ornamental design for an electronic media reader, as shown and described." Interestingly, the reference literature is heavy on a list of references to E Ink Corp., which makes the "liquidless paper" display used in Kindle.

The patent award also indicates that Amazon has filed at least four previous patents for electronic-reader technology. These aren't design patents, but regular ones, so this is a qualifier to my claim above that Amazon hasn't received any e-book patents. (As in, no they haven't. Yet.)

OK, here are some pictures of the e-reader (aka Kindle) design as shown in the Amazon patent:



Amazon Kindle as shown in patent D591,741.(Click picture to enlarge.)




Amazon Kindle as shown in patent D591,741.(Click picture to enlarge.)

PART 2

Now here's the post I was writing before I came upon the Kindle patent. The backstory is, I was researching this stuff last night, when there appeared to be no Amazon patents on this stuff. Imagine my surprise when I did a last-minute check and found the new Kindle patent.

Big Secret Behind Amazon's Widescreen Kindle

Here's an interesting fact I bet you won't find out in the online feeding frenzy surrounding the Wednesday introduction of Amazon's new, large-screen Kindle. Amazon doesn't appear to have developed any of the fundamental technologies behind its e-book reader itself (though it is building one heck of an iTunes-like ecosystem).

The implication behind my "no new tech" statement is really not fair to Amazon, which after all has been extremely forward looking and proactive in single-handedly creating a big market for electronic books. As with Apple and electronic music files, Amazon didn't invent this market, but it smartly combined a player (or, in this case, reader) platform and an e-commerce ecosystem to create a functioning marketplace that's appealing to consumers.

Now, with the large-screen Kindle due to be introduced on Wednesday, it may be about to perform the marketplace miracle of staving off the total collapse of the newspaper industry. (That's because the big Kindle is the perfect form-factor on which to read ye olde newspapers.)

What inspired me to write this post though, was a search through the patent literature. I did that last night, because I was curious what Amazon was bringing to the party, technologically speaking. Boy, was I surprised at the results of my search. At the end of the evening, it was a minor point for me that a search of "Amazon.com and electronic and book" yielded no patents. Like I said, Amazon's genius is in packaging, not fundamental research.

What is interesting is how many e-book-related patents are out there. Start with E Ink Corp., Sony, and IBM.

You know the first two, or should know that E Ink Corp. is the creator of the electronic "ink" screen that's the basis of the Kindle, and of most of the other extant standalone e-book readers. I talked to Russell Wilcox, president and co-founder of E Ink, back in 2005, when he was just beginning to get interest in his "liquidless paper."

Nicholas Sheridon, a senior researcher at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, who invented one of the three main methods for placing an image on electronic paper, explained to me how this stuff works. "Electronic paper is a paperless display medium that uses ambient light to project an image," he said. "It can be done with liquid crystals or by using black and white particles with different charges, or using beads that are black in one hemisphere and white in the other, which rotate in an electric field."

Sony is a licensee of E Ink and uses it in Sony's own e-book reader, which was on the market ahead of Amazon, but hasn't had anywhere near the success because it doesn't have the accompanying iTunes-like store.

Anyway, here are a few interesting tidbits from the rest of my patent search:

Discovery Communications Inc. -- yes, that Discovery, as in the science-oriented cable TV network -- has a patent for an "Electronic Book having electronic commerce features." (Again, note that focus on the store.) Actually, long-time watchers of the field are aware of this patent because Discovery sued Amazon recently over security features related to the former's patent.

IBM has an electronic reader patent.

E Ink Corp.'s canonical patent, BTW, dates to September, 2006 and is entitled, "Electronic book with multiple page displays"

OK, so this is where I was when I did the search and discovered the new Kindle patent. Since timing is everything on the Web, it's also where I stopped so I could write up the Amazon patent and post it, post haste!

Follow me on Twitter: (@awolfe58)

What's your take? Let me know, by leaving a comment below or e-mailing me directly at alex@alexwolfe.net.

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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.

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