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US patent application 2012/0221436 is about teachers that create, using special software, textbooks that will be sold. This is the same thing that iBooks Author does, isn't it? Therefore: does Apple know this? And: does this patent mean that we can't make software that lets teachers create their own electronic textbooks?

EDIT: some more information about this patent. From Claims:

  1. The electronic book system of claim 1, wherein the curator processing subsystem is further configured to provide an interface for specifying a cover page for the electronic book.

  2. The electronic book system of claim 1, wherein the curator processing subsystem is further configured to provide an interface for specifying a style for the electronic book.

  3. The electronic book system of claim 1, wherein the curator processing subsystem is further configured to provide an interface for arranging the subset for presentation in the electronic book.

  4. The electronic book system of claim 1, wherein the curator processing subsystem is further configured to provide an interface for specifying a table of contents for the electronic book.

  5. The electronic book system of claim 1, wherein the curator processing subsystem is further configured to provide an interface for specifying an index for the electronic book.

The "curator processing subsystem" is some software that lets you create your own textbooks. Therefore: is it possible that this patent is about something as vague as a software for creating textbooks?

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2 Answers 2

It sounds an awful lot like http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/, and does seem broad. I'm not familiar with iBooks Author, but I don't think it would infringe because it doesn't provide actual content to be repackaged in a book. From a brief read of the spec of the '436 application, it looks like the "book component" is referring to something like a chapter or subchapter, which a professor can combine with other chapters to make a customized textbook.

To answer your question, it is possible to patent software for creating textbooks, provided that the invention is novel and non-obvious. However, if the software is nothing more than doing on a computer what was done in the analog world before, the applicants will have a hard time establishing that it's non-obvious. I'd argue that this patent in particular is nothing more than a digital version of a university printshop, which often has articles on hand to compile into a custom book for a given course. The specification doesn't seem to address any difficult problem digitizing the process, so I don't think it would be a stretch to say that this application is simply combining old prior art elements in ways that don't change their functions.

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Firstly, you should note this is a patent application, not a patent (it has not been examined by the USPTO, or approved, and there are no rights to stop other party's until it has been granted).

The sub-claims all depend on the main claim 1, and so cannot be read in isolation (imagine instead to combine them - claim 2 is features of claim 1 + claim 2). Claim 1 appears below as quote.

In layman's terms, the system is trying to claim a system that has a lots of books/chapters/components in a digital repository, each component having a set of rules/policies (e.g. must be sold at >= $2.00, you CAN include with any other content or ONLY include with other book components written by author X or having reputation >4, etc).

Then, it's required that the aggregator creates a book from the different book components (e.g. chapters), bundles it into a book, take money from customer, divides money between owners of book components, and sends to the book component owners (and presumably takes a commission also).

From customer's view, they could pay to dynamically build/purchase their most desired chapters on a topic from different book components/chapters, as a single book.

a publisher processing subsystem configured to permit publisher supply of book components and one or more policies, the book components being stored in a book components database, the one or more policies being stored in a policy database;

a curator processing subsystem configured to permit curator selection of a subset of the book components from the book components database, responsive to the policies, for synthesis into an electronic book, the curator processing subsystem further configured to store the electronic book in a book database; and

a distribution subsystem configured to retrieve the electronic book from the book database, provide the electronic book for purchase, and collect payment for such purchase, wherein the electronic book system is further configured to aggregate the payment with other payments for disbursement to select publishers, responsive to the select publishers having provided at least one of the subset of the book components.

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