Amazon was awarded the patent for a “handheld electronic book reader device having dual displays” today, but does it even matter? Amazon (s amzn) applied for the patent back in 2006 when work was underway on the electronic reader that would eventually be known as the Kindle. The interesting part of the patent deals with the second display, which is the narrow mirrored scroll bar (noted right) on the original Kindle. This bar was used with the accompanying scroll button to make menu selections. Some users found this method a bit clumsy to use, and Amazon eliminated it in the next generation models. They now have a patent for that second display but no longer use it.
This is a good example of how slowly the patent office moves compared to the fast-paced world of consumer electronics. This is clearly the situation with the Kindle patent; during the four years after the patent application Amazon modified the Kindle design and removed one of the key features covered in the patent application. Does this largely invalidate the benefits of the patent to Amazon, or will it use it to stop competing e-book readers?
A few competing devices have appeared that take the narrow second display and expand its uses. The Nook from Barnes & Noble (s bks) and the Alex from Spring Design each have a largish second touchscreen display that is used to facilitate navigating around the device. It is not clear if this new patent for the Kindle would have an impact on either of these products. It would be ironic if these companies would now be faced with licensing the second display from Amazon, which no longer uses it on the Kindle.
Image credit: Amazon
Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): Irrational Exuberance Over E-Books?