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1/13/2011
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Google Acquires eBook Technologies

The deal strengthens Google's digital content distribution capabilities and diminishes its vulnerability to potential patent lawsuits.

Having acquired 25 companies in 2010, Google is continuing its buying spree in the new year with the purchase of eBook Technologies, a supplier of e-book reading devices and content distribution technology.

"eBook Technologies, Inc. is excited to announce that we have been acquired by Google," said the La Jolla, Calif.-based company on its Web site. "Working together with Google will further our commitment to providing a first-class reading experience on emerging tablets, e-readers and other portable devices."

Google declined to provide specific details about its future product plans. "We are happy to welcome eBook Technologies' team to Google," said a spokesperson in an e-mailed statement. "Together, we hope to deliver richer reading experiences on tablets, electronic readers and other portable devices."

No price for the deal was disclosed.

In December, Google launched its digital bookselling platform, Google eBooks, the culmination of years of legal wrangling and book scanning. Having entered into competition with Amazon and Apple in the process, Google has tried to differentiate itself by characterizing its ecosystem as more open than what's offered by its rivals.

"Open" however doesn't mean open in the sense of content without digital locks. It means open in the sense of allowing partners to have a meaningful role. In fact, Google's interest in eBook Technologies appears to be in securing e-book content and protecting itself against potential patent lawsuits.

eBook Technologies licenses e-book technology from companies hailing from dot com boom at the turn of the second millennium: SoftBook Press, NuvoMedia, and Gemstar. It also appears to have rights related to some relevant patents, such as one titled "Electronic Display Device Event Tracking," which lists eBook Technologies co-founder and president Garth Conboy among the inventors.

Indeed, the company boasts about its intellectual property portfolio on its Web site, or at least it did until these pages were removed in conjunction with the acquisition. "Patented areas of the eBook technology suite cover the unique designs, features and functions of the entire eBook publishing system," the company states on its old Web site. "Intellectual property includes: the eBook system and features, cryptography, user interface elements, industrial design and manufacturing processes."

Google's interest in eBook Technologies may also have an enterprise angle: eBook Technologies has developed a comprehensive network architecture for e-book sales and distribution that includes a component called eBook Express Manager. This is an application that "allows enterprise customers to centrally manage the delivery, access, audit, and updating of enterprise content for groups of e-book users."

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