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Amazon Patents Show Strategy -- Personalized Libraries (1 of 2)

Laurie Sullivan at MediaPost News mentioned how recently published Amazon patent applications show something about the company's advertising model for the Kindle. These and other filings show some interesting patterns and suggest major corporate strategies on the part of Amazon. I will break this topic into two entries, as there is too much for a single post. We'll start with personalized libraries.

Sullivan mentioned a patent granted to Amazon Technologies, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of -- number 7,542,625 -- on June 2, 2009. It offers the following abstract:

Access to an electronic version of a physical work is provided to a user. The electronic version of the physical work comprises images of the physical work that, when visually displayed, appear the same as the physical work. Access to the electronic version of the physical work is based on user ownership of the physical work. Access to a portion or all of the physical work may be provided in accordance with one or more access rules. A user may own a physical work by virtue of purchasing the physical work or purchasing an item that the physical work normally accompanies. A flag may be set for later reference to indicate user ownership of the physical work.
As Sullivan suggests, "the patent would give consumers who purchase a print book an electronic copy of the physical version, too." But I think it goes a lot further, particularly when read with another recent Amazon patent. As you read the description section of the first one, you see that it is describing documents. Mind you, not just books, as Sullivan though, but "books, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, manuals, guides, references, articles, reports, documents, etc." as well as downloadable e-book and portable documents. It's creating an electronic library to parallel the physical ones that people have.

Another patent that I noticed, number 7,496,560, furthers the electronic library conversation. According to the patent abstract, users would have personalized libraries with images of pages as well as corresponding electronically-searchable text. Consumers could explicitly choose what content to include, or this could be done automatically based on user actions "or purchase of content." Users would also be able to highlight content. It seems like a natural and intelligent extension of the online book display feature that Amazon uses so well. By matching the page images with searchable text, whether automatically according to rules or through the user's direction, the company could build the library and have it ready in its cloud for users. Under the 625 patents, users could also potentially pool their libraries to form group holdings.

How important is this potentially to Amazon? Huge. Consumers could get full electronic libraries of everything they can show they bought, otherwise known as all the media they purchased from Amazon. Consider these benefits:

  • You can search through any publication you've ever purchased and eliminate the trade-offs between paper versus electrons by having both.
  • With both, you can search a database of your entire library any way you wish and then either bring up the virtual page or, because the patent envisions an exact electronic replica of the physical, you could go to the correct spot in the paper medium.
  • Your physical and electronic media libraries are kept in perfect sync for you, eliminating any maintenance on your part.
It's a powerful concept, and one that could propel the company far ahead of would-be competitors. That's because Amazon can force the deals with publishers, possibly making e-versions that pair with physical media a requirement to do business with the giant. What other e-book manufacturer has the same reach and muscle? Perhaps Barnes & Noble, which has its own e-book site and an e-book reader for the Blackberry. The book seller has also been rumored to be developing an e-book device. Borders just launched its own e-book device in the U.K., getting to that market before Amazon releases the Kindle there:
At £189, the Borders e-book costs around £10 less than the Sony Reader. Borders said the new device is currently being sold exclusively in its stores, but will be available through its website from next week. A selection of 45,000 e-books will be available to buy on the Borders website.
So competition for Amazon is heating up, and having two media retailing competitors has to be a particular concern. What better then to have a patent that provides a barrier to providing such a comprehensive search service? Of course, there's the question of whether these patents could stand challenge, or if they might fall to a charge of being "obvious" as the one-click patent did. However, challenging the patents would take time and still give Amazon a head start and, thus, competitive advantage.

Here's a link to the second part of this look at Amazon strategy.

Image via stock.xchng user Legley, site standard license.

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