By now Kindle users have become familiar with the idea of sponsored screen savers on their eReaders when the devices are on standby. They are generally unobtrusive, don’t get in the way of the reading experience, and can even offer some decent deals from time to time when you get lucky. Not many people argue against them anymore, especially since Amazon now allows users to pay the price difference between a Kindle with ads and a Kindle without ads to have the whole mechanism disabled entirely. Unfortunately, the idle screen’s ads have opened Amazon up to a claim of patent infringement from one of the biggest “Patent Trolls” in operation.
The company making the accusation, Network Presentations Solutions, is a shell company operated by Acacia Research Group. Acacia Research Group, as some might remember from last October, has taken on Amazon before with regard to Kindle devices. Last time it was a variety of issues regarding the Kindle Fire. This time around, they have acquired the rights to a patent for any personal computing device that shows ads on a screen after a certain designated period of idling. Naturally this would include all recent Kindle offerings, in addition to other companies such as Kobo that have followed in Amazon’s footsteps, one would think.
What are they hoping to accomplish with this suit? The requested ruling would require Amazon to pay a substantial penalty, recall and destroy every Kindle device ever sold with the Special Offers screen savers, issue a copy of the court ruling along with an admission of wrongdoing to everybody who has ever owned a Kindle, and generally appear contrite and humbled. More realistically, Acacia is hoping for a substantial payday when Amazon settles to avoid the potentially huge ramifications of losing. Patent Trolls are not held in particularly high regard at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they always lose in court. Amazon isn’t exactly the most beloved company around at the moment either, after all.
While there seems to have been no word as to what, if any, progress has been made on the last Acacia vs Amazon lawsuit, it is a fair assumption that Amazon is not in the habit of quietly accepting this sort of thing. They have placed a great deal of faith in the Kindle line, both eReader and Tablet offerings, and such vaguely applicable patents have questionable standing when held up to scrutiny. Remember that a software patent holder needs to be able to prove that its patent involves a non-obvious solution to a problem. It is hard to say whether or not advertisements in place of screen savers would really qualify in the eyes of the court.
Chances are good that this is not the last time we’ll be seeing Amazon hit with patent litigation. Patent Trolling is huge money and there is a lot of profit to be made in anything somebody can make stick to the Kindle. With the next generation of Kindle Fire just around the corner and the possibility of a Kindle Phone being whispered about in vague rumors about the distant future, Amazon is just going to be even more open to these things. Hopefully the added expense of an occasional settlement or legal dispute won’t be enough to scare them off of ongoing hardware development.