Amazon Pursues a Canadian Patent on Selling Used Digital Content

4144872623_4532fcec28_bWe’ve known since 2013 that Amazon has their eye on maybe one day letting Kindle users resell an ebook they bought, and it turns out their interest has gone international.

I’ve just learned that Amazon is also pursuing a patent in Canada on “Referring, Lending, and Reselling of Digital Items”. The patent hasn’t been awarded yet, but according to the paperwork Amazon originally filed the patent way back in 2011, and has spent the intervening years filing paperwork, tussling with patent examiners, and paying additional fees.

The patent closely mirrors the US patent I wrote about in 2013. Both patents cover the sale and/or loan of used ebooks and other digital content, and they also include a method for the rights holder to be paid for that resale or loan.

It’s pretty straightforward, and essentially works like the same as a used print book sale (why it qualifies for a patent, I can’t tell you). The person selling the ebook lists it on Amazon, and when a buyer selects it the seller loses access and the license is transferred to the buyer. The seller receives a portion of the payment, Amazon gets a cut, and there’s an option for the rights holder to also get a cut.

Aside from the fact that Amazon is transferring a license, and not actually letting you sell an ebook, this is the same process as reselling a paper book.

There’s also mentions in the patent that the rights holder can be paid when an ebook is loaned by one Kindle user to another, and that the rights holder will have the option of allowing/forbidding the lending or resale of their ebooks.

This last comes as no surprise; authors have had the option to disallow loans ever since the lending feature launched in early 2011.


The patents don’t offer any hints as to when Amazon plans to put this system into place, but the fact that Amazon is still pursuing the Canadian patent suggests that they are still interested in the idea.


Coincidentally, I learned of this patent from another site which laughably proclaimed that Amazon was “secretly developing a used ebook marketplace”. Given that we knew of the earlier patent, I don’t see how their interest was much of a secret. Also, Amazon revealed all the important details when they filed this patent’s description in 2012, so really the patent was only a secret because no one had found it yet.

And most importantly, I can’t see any evidence that Amazon has done more than file patents. That claim is really nothing more than clickbait, so I won’t reward the clickbaiters by linking to them.

image by Dear, max

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. […] Amazon Pursues a Canadian Patent on Selling Used Digital Content | The Digital Reader […]

  2. MKS25 February, 2016

    This patent could also be used to prevent others from selling “used” ebooks because they would have to license the patent from Amazon.

    1. Nate Hoffelder25 February, 2016

      That assumes anyone else would be interested in the idea. Even ReDigi has passed on reselling ebooks, and they were interested before Amazon.

      1. fjtorres25 February, 2016

        Things change over time.
        At some point in the future selling “used” ebooks might happen.
        (For example, the core technology behind Bitcoin–blockchain–is being adopted by the financial services industry and the big IT platform. Applying the tech to a new ebook platform could create a truly interoperable virtual book ebook standard with dynamically transferable licenses that allowed both lending and reselling; no need for a middleman.)
        Whether it happens or not, it *can* happen. The tech exists. And it could disrupt Amazon as thoroughly as Amazon has disrupted the Manhattan Mafia’s cartel.

        1. Chris Meadows25 February, 2016

          Nobody’s yet figured out a way around the idea of someone cracking DRM and copying off the book, then reselling it. Just like it’s simple to crack DRM on library e-books and keep a copy of them. It may not be so much of a concern for library books since no money changes hands, but that could be a sure killer for a digital resale market.

          1. fjtorres25 February, 2016

            That is what BlockChain is all about.
            It is a 100% server-based transaction system based on the concept of “trust nobody so tell everybody”.



            Substitute “license” for currency.
            Obviously the ebooks would be app-locked and require always-on internet (or close to it) but many sectors are moving that way anyway.

            Its nowhere near imminent considering that publishing is a trailing edge business when it comes to tech but the tools are out there. Not impossible.

          2. puzzled26 February, 2016

            Nobody’s yet figured out a way around the idea of someone photocopying the book and then reselling it.

  3. MKS25 February, 2016

    Amazon rents etextbooks; that’s where the biggest used market would be I think.

    The ability for the customer to resell a book also changes the customer’s perception of value. A perception that an ebook could be resold would help justify a higher purchase price for ebooks overall.

    1. fjtorres25 February, 2016

      Academic ebooks is ripe for this kind of development because the installed base of readers and apps is minimal. Nobody has yet released a killer academic reading system yet the money at stake is enormous.

  4. […] digital content before. In 2013 it received a US patent on the idea, applied for in 2009. Now, according to The Digital Reader, it is in the process of obtaining one in Canada as well. The Canadian patent was filed in 2011, […]

  5. puzzled25 February, 2016

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned Kobo yet.

    This is clearly a blocking move on Kobo being able to develop a used book market, should they even want to.

    1. Nate Hoffelder26 February, 2016

      I’m not sure Kobo matters that much, not in such a small market as Canada.

      1. puzzled26 February, 2016

        Then why is Amazon registering the patent in Canada? Don’t they get automatic coverage under some treaty or another?

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    […] ????????? The Digital Reader ????????Nate Hoffelder??????????????????????????????????????????? 2011 ???????????????????????? […]

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