Discovery accuses Amazon over patent

NEW YORK — Citing innovations by founder John S. Hendricks, Discovery Communications filed a patent infringement lawsuit Tuesday against Amazon over the dot-com’s strong-selling Kindle.

The suit alleges that Discovery holds a patent on a certain e-book technology employed by the Kindle. Introduced with great fanfare in late 2007, the device has defied some early critics of its bulkiness to gain traction with consumers, especially in its new Kindle 2 incarnation.

At the same time, the emergence of e-books — not just on the Kindle, but on Google and on Apple’s iPhone — has prompted thorny legal questions over compensation for authors and publishers.

Amazon had no comment on the lawsuit.

Amazon has kept a fairly tight lid on sales data, but its initial Kindle production run in late 2007 sold out by Christmastime, and only in recent months has production been able to keep pace with demand. Boosters liken the device to Apple’s rapidly adopted iPod.

A Citigroup research report in February estimated 2008 sales at 500,000 units and predicted that annual revenue would reach $1.2 billion — about 4% of company revenue — by 2010, helped by the Kindle’s $359 pricetag.

Kindle sales make up nearly 15% of the total for the 150,000 or so titles now available in either book or electronic form on Amazon.com.

Discovery said it obtained the patent in 2007. Hendricks and Discovery “were significant players in the development of digital content and delivery services in the 1990s,” the company said in a statement.

The patent specifically covered e-book security.

“Our tradition as an inventive company has produced considerable intellectual property assets for our shareholders,” added Discovery’s general counsel, Joseph A. LaSala Jr., “and today’s infringement litigation is part of our effort to protect and defend those assets.”

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