Lightning Source 1, Patent Trolls 0

A long-brewing battle that involved Amazon and leading print-on-demand vendor Lighting Source (a unit of massive wholesaler Ingram Industries) vs. an apparent patent troll, seems to have been settled with the U.S. District Court completely reversing on appeal a 2004 infringement judgement.
I have not read the patent in question, nor do I know the specific facts of the case. But it seems obvious that business-process patents (such as patenting the process of creating a single copy of a book to fill an individual order) are a significant drag on innovation. I think such business processes should be unpatentable, as they have been until quite recently, and that the requirement that an invention must be non-obvious should also be beefed up (it has been weakened by a number of court rulings during the 1980s).
I label “On Demand Machine Corporation” a troll as they appear to have built no products and operated no services, and have a web site that seems to primarily contain recitations of their patent specifications. The original “inventor” is deceased. I don’t think business-process patents should be allowed at all, but at least folks like Amazon patent actual working services that deliver some value to consumers. So I thank Lightning Source for fighting this appeal.
Hopefully clearing up this patent confusion will stimulate new offerings in the print-on-demand segment. While I”ll wager that reading on paper will be a minority behavior 20 years from now, there’s clearly going to be a long transitional period – and I admit I may be off by a decade or two. So long as paper remains a preferred medium, combining digital distribution with the option for instant creation of high-quality printed publications is a great way to deliver higher-value solutions.

3 Responses to Lightning Source 1, Patent Trolls 0

  1. smick says:

    Amazon being holder of the 1-click patent, is another patent that should have never been considered.
    A 1-click is a business process as well, the point where the the customer transaction takes place. This standard type of transaction should always be freely made more efficient through advances in websites / banking services.
    I feel when some patents are filed, the organization forgets that their ‘innovation’ they are is really just building on common processes in the public domain.
    It’s like Isaac Newton who said “if I’ve seen farther, It’s because I’ve stood on the shoulder of Giants” Sometimes a patent is like charging those giants whose shoulders you rest upon, a price of admission, even though they got you there in the first place.
    People might say “it’s not stifling innovation because you can pay for a license to use our patented process.” But actually this stifles so many people from getting to that point due to worries / conflicts over how encompassing the patent is.

  2. Adam says:

    I provided more details on the my blog at http://printmode.net/blog/archives/2006/04/03/printondemand_is_free.php
    I just recently learned of this patent when I visited LSI last week and read through it with great awe that something so broad would make it through the USPTO.
    This was a very important case, now we need to watch the outcome of the RRD Patent Lawsuit against Creo and Quark.

  3. Mike Perry says:

    Since I publish through LightningSource as Inkling Books, I’ve read some of the legal material in this case. Here’s what I remember.
    The original patent was more than a little dubious. It was filled with technical gibberish about hard drives and files to impress a clueless patent examiner. The basic idea was trite, a gadget in bookstores that would print and bind a book that a customer requested via a kiosk.
    And as the appeals court noted, the idea was nothing new. Print on demand in a retail setting was around long before this patent was applied for. I can remember seeing someone using an ordinary computer and printer to create children’s story books with an individual child’s name inside in the late 1980s. This patent failed the obvious test.
    In addition, the patent was for a stand-alone kiosk in a bookstore, which doesn’t remotely resemble what Lightning and Amazon are doing. At the district court level, the judge somewhat bizarrely instructed the jury to ignore that. That’s why the appeal courts claim that no rational jury would find that the Lightning/Amazon system was the same as an in-store kiosk was unfair. Rational or irrational, the jury was simply follow’s a judge’s orders. (I’d have ignored the judge, but then I wasn’t on the jury.)
    The inventor, who seems to have been a naive but not particularly gifted individual, did try to build a device that could automatically create something resembling a book but was never successful himself or at interesting a major corporation in what was and remains a poor idea. The technology just isn’t there and probably won’t be until after this patent expires. LightningSource uses IBM machines that are too large and costly to install in bookstores.
    Unfortunately, this dispute may prevent Amazon and LightningSource from working out an arrangement where books are printed at Amazon shipping facilities, something that’d benefit everyone but these greedy patent trolls.
    All this illustrates that issuing the wrong sorts of patents stiffles rather than rewards innovation.
    Mike Perry, InklingBooks.com
    Author: Untangling Tolkien