The Kindle is clearly a paradigm-shifting device, signaling as it does the start of the digital book revolution—so it's only natural to expect people to get shaken up by it. And earlier this year the Author's Guild got antsy about the Kindle 2's electronic voice, claiming copyright issues. But the latest legal challenge to the e-book is from a seemingly strange source: the Discovery Channel.
Yes, you read that right. The Discovery Channel, purveyors of "educational" television that includes programming championing the advance of technology. And why has it decided to sue Amazon for damages? Because, according to Discovery, the Kindle's electronic book purchasing and distribution system violates a 2007 patent Discovery Channel's founder John Hendricks holds about the distribution of content over television, computers, and portable hardware. Among the patent details is a segment that covers encryption technology for the sale and transmission of digital books. That's why Discovery is looking for damages and a royalty payment to compensate against "any future infringement" of the patent by Amazon.
Though it's not quite full-blown patent trolling, it's potentially a galling move for the consumer. Does Discovery plan to spend the R&D money to develop its own e-book system to rival the Kindle? Unlikely. Will it move into the e-book vending market and rival Amazon? Very unlikely. What will this move do for the consumer? Nothing but potentially add to the cost of Amazon's e-reader and e-books if Discovery wins the case it's brought in the U.S. District Court in Delaware. It seems a surprisingly bad PR move for a company that appears to be pro-technology.
Discovery's statement about the matter notes that "Hendricks' work included inventions of a secure, encrypted system for the selection, transmission and sale of electronic books." And that's probably true—credit where credit is due and all that. But is the encrypted way of selecting, transmitting and selling electronic books particularly different from any other kind of DRM'd purchased file?
See it as another hint that the copyright and patent systems we currently use are increasingly in need of a re-think—otherwise innovative, challenging technologies like the Kindle (and perhaps even other e-books like Sony's or Fujitsu's if Discovery gets greedy) will continue to face this sort of litigious nonsense.