Amazon Obtains Patent For eReader With Dual Displays, May Show Barnes and Noble Who’s The Boss

On July 6, 2010, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Patent 7,748,634 for a “Handheld Electronic Book Reader Device Having Dual Displays.”

That a patent was issued doesn’t seem like big news, until you realize that the patent went to Amazon and that the patent appears to cover other e-readers with dual displays, such as Barnes and Noble’s nook reader.

From the artwork provided with the patent application, it appears that Amazon was originally referring the thin strip that appeared near the right side of the original Kindle, but the descriptions of what could encompass a dual display are far reaching enough to include devices like the nook. Amazon was able to keep this patent under wraps because they agreed to not apply for any foreign patents during the approval process. Therefore, it’s extremely unlikely that Barnes and Noble would have been able to find out anything about the patent application during their due diligence in preparations to launch the nook.

While it’s clear that this caught everyone by surprise, the real question is what will Amazon do with it’s new found powers? Companies normally take out patents to both protect their intellectual property (IP) from current competitors and to prevent new competitors from entering their industry. Amazon could legally tell Barnes and Noble to stop making and selling the nook, or risk being sued by Amazon and possibly paying a huge amount of money if B&N loses the case. While Amazon is well within their rights to do so, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice tend to look at such practices as anti-competitive and monopolistic, which could backfire on Amazon in the end. It’s unlikely that Amazon would do nothing, since courts are less sympathetic to patent holders if they allow competitors to use the patented technology for extended periods of time without taking steps to protect their patent. The best outcome for both parties would likely be for Amazon to license the dual display “concept” to B&N (and other e-reader makers), which would have to pay a fee for each device they sell using the dual displays. Still, with all the craziness in the e-reader market over the last few months, it’s really anybody’s guess what happens.

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