Patent Granted to Encourage Purchase of Digital Textbooks

By Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica


In a newly approved patent, an economics professor hopes to bring to the academic publishing world what seems to be forthcoming in the video game industry—new restrictions that would seemingly eliminate a secondary market for digital goods and prevent legal borrowing.

Last week, the 2006 patent for a “Web-based system and method to capture and distribute royalties for access to copyrighted academic texts by preventing unauthorized access to discussion boards associated with copyrighted academic works” was approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The patent was granted to Joseph Henry Vogel, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras.

The system, according to the filing, is designed to prevent cases where “unauthorized access to copyrighted academic texts is provided in which trademark licenses, discussion boards, and grade content are integrated into a Web-based system.”


Beyond the legal questions, other experts suggested that forcing students to buy texts through such a system is unlikely to be implemented. Professors have few incentives to make it more difficult and to compel students even more than they already are to buy textbooks, digital or analog. (A 2011 survey from UC Riverside found that 78 percent of undergraduates "bought fewer books, bought cheaper books, or read books on reserve to help meet expenses.")

“I’m not all that worried that this is going to do much because this is aged thinking as to how students would access materials for courses,” said Dave Hansen, the Digital Library Fellow at Berkeley Law. “I can’t envision too many responsible instructors going along with it.”