Discovery E-Book Filing Raises Eyebrows

Discovery earlier this year filed a lawsuit against over its popular Kindle e-book reader.
Discovery earlier this year filed a lawsuit against over its popular Kindle e-book reader. (By Jin Lee -- Bloomberg News)
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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 29, 2009

Is Discovery Communications gearing up for a jump into the suddenly hot e-book space? A filing made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office raises that possibility.

According to the filing, the Silver Spring-based media company applied in February for a patent on a product it describes as an "electronic book having electronic commerce features."

The company did not respond to a call Friday seeking comment on the matter.

Whatever Discovery's plans are, the electronic book market is shaping up to be this year's most sought-after space by consumer electronics makers. In the wake of considerable buzz for Amazon's Kindle, consumer electronics giant Sony has been aggressively courting the market, with a $200 version of its electronic reader announced this month and set for a release any day now. What's more, the tech industry abounds with rumors about a new tablet-shaped computer possibly on the way from Apple, a product that many think will incorporate some e-book features.

Discovery, by comparison, surprised the tech world earlier this year when it filed a lawsuit against Amazon, claiming that the online retailer's popular Kindle product infringes on an electronic book patent held by the media company, which is better known for its cable offerings such as the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Amazon has since countersued Discovery, claiming that the cable TV company is infringing on some of its own e-commerce patents.

Discovery had not -- and still has not -- made many public statements about moving into the consumer electronics arena. But according to the company's patent application, the device would be able to play audio and video files. While other e-readers currently on the market can play audio files, they typically don't play video clips.

Discovery's filing describes the device as being shaped like a paperback book and containing "a novel combination of new technology involving the television, cable, telephone and computer industries."

The application lists the company's founder and chairman, John S. Hendricks, as one of the technology's inventors. Another inventor listed on the filing, Michael L. Asmussen of Herndon, declined to comment for this article and referred a reporter to Discovery.

News of the filing was reported on the Baltimore Sun's Web site.

Tech industry analysts were skeptical about the company's prospects if it does move forward into the consumer electronics marketplace.

"None of this looks new to me," said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, after looking at the company's patent filing. "Wouldn't you think that Amazon and others have this market already sewn up?"

Phil Leigh, an industry analyst with Inside Digital Media, had a similar take. "My initial reaction is that this could be a 'patent troll,' " he said, using a pejorative term for companies that opportunistically pursue copyright claims with no intention of using their inventions.

Either way, he said, he's more interested in what Apple might soon have in store. "I've been personally close to pulling the trigger on the Kindle," he said, "but now I'm holding off because I want to see what Apple does."

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