In a surprise ruling that could have serious implications for the future of print-on-demand book printing, a St. Louis jury has ruled in favor of On Demand Machine, a patent-holder of POD technology, and awarded the company a $15-million judgment against Lightning Source; its parent company, Ingram Industries; and online retailer Amazon. com for "willful" patent infringement.
Keel Hunt, a spokesperson for Ingram and Lightning Source, told PW that the company was "disappointed in the ruling," adding that the companies will appeal. Hunt also emphasized, "We continue to service our customers." Amazon did not respond to PW's phone calls regarding the ruling.
The court's ruling came in a patent infringement suit filed in 2001 by Harvey Ross, an electrical engineer who died in 2002. He received a patent for a computer-based book manufacturing system in 1995. The patent is for a device that can digitally store a copy of the text and print one copy or more once the books are purchased.
Bruce Baebler, president of On Demand Machine, told PW, "We've had many disagreements with Lightning Source since they started operations." Although Baebler hailed the ruling, he acknowledged that "there is much more to come before there is a final verdict." He noted that judges must further examine the issue of whether the infringement was willful or not.
Ken Brooks, president of Publishing Dimensions, a publishing and print-on-demand consultant, was an expert witness in the case. He said he was "very surprised" at the ruling. He told PW that most industry professionals believed Ross's patent only covered in-store machines. But, he said, the ruling means that "if you store sales or catalogue information on a computer and order books using that information, then you are likely infringing. This could even include a range of non-digital printing." Brooks said it was conceivable that any company using POD technology might have to pay a fee to the patent holder. "This could make POD much more expensive to use," he said.