A Patent Tangent on Google Books

Courtesy of Eric Goldman, here’s a cute little patent case with a Google Books angle, Celorio v. Google. Celorio holds a U.S. patent on an “Electronic bookstore vending machine.” In his view, his patent describes a print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine to a T. So he sued Espresso’s maker, On Demand Books, and also Google. As the court explains, Celorio alleges that Google

  • Directly infringes “out of his premises in California” by installing one or more Espresso Book Machines in its offices, where a user can request a book be downloaded and printed on demand.
  • Commits contributory infringement because it offers to sell and sells electronic books, which are component of a patented device and apparatus.
  • Commits contributory infringement by transferring its files to Espresso Book Machines, knowing the files will be transformed into a physical book using the ‘890 Patent without permission.
  • Induces infringement “by promoting and encouraging the purchase of electronic books to [be] printed on demand” by Espresso Book Machines.
  • Induces infringement by virtue of Google Books’ ability to provide searches of indexed book content.

The case doesn’t get at all into the facts of what Google does or whether Celorio’s patent really does cover any of these activities. Instead, it’s an early-stage dispute over how specifically Celorio needs to explain his theories of infringement, and the court’s conclusion is that he’s explained them well enough for the case to proceed. The takeaway is that not even the public domain books in Google Books are completely clear of legal challenges.

I find it hard to take this patent seriously (except for the serious fact that patents don’t seem to be attaining their goal for society, in most cases), considering that it was filed 7 months after Xlibris was founded.

I’m also willing to bet (a small amount) that the concept of on-demand printing in a single machine was described long before 1997 in some published science fiction story, and once the concept was invented, the claims of that patent do not seem to me to be much more than what someone knowledgeable in the art of printing books would automatically do to realize this concept.

I’m a bit puzzled, however, as to why Celorio’s lawyers thought it was a good idea to add Google on as a defendant. I can understand Instabook suing the makers of the Espresso machine (On Demand Books), since they seems to directly compete with each other, and it seems that Instabook isn’t exactly winning that battle (this was the first time I had heard about them). Suing Google, to me, just seems to be tempting fate (even if the plan is actually to just settle with them for a small sum of money —- perhaps enough to bankroll the real legal battle with On Demand Books?)

Celorio is representing himself. On Demand has already been dismissed from the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction.

Celorio is representing himself.

Oh, my. It would be tragicomic if this pro se plaintiff won against Google, just in the wake of Oracle’s debacle.

Ron I agree , ‘print on demand machine’ sounds as generic as espresso machine. It could be a special type/brand of ‘coin in a slot’ printer/binder, dispenser but surely that is all?

“tragicomic” sounds like the sort of script that Peter Sellers did so well.

Alexi Panshin wrote a series describing this technology in some detail back in the late sixties/early seventies. The books were named:

Starwell The Thurb Revolution Masque World

Check them out - the detail including ordering books fom a central catalogue was incredible. When I heard about the Expresso machine I laughed myself silly.


Considering that I’m a fairly big fan of the first book in that series, I decided to consult my digitized version.

There, after some judicious thought, he invested seven thalers thirty in a fascinating and profusely illustrated work entitled Comparative Biologies of Seven Sentient Races and made no comment on the high price of the reproduction.

A book was portable and intelligible on the spot, and nothing could beat the smell of a freshly-made book, direct from the fac machine.

They stopped beside a stall where a fac machine was producing books at twenty-second intervals.

However, the same series implies, in a different location, that a “fac machine” is actually some kind of universal manufacturing machine, rather than a dedicated machine for printing books:

It was a catalog of those costumes that Lord Semichastny’s fac machine was prepared to deliver.
So, no, I wouldn’t rely too strongly on this in court.