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Evan Jacobs
Evan Jacobs

Speaking from personal experience, getting an e-book signed can be a messy process. But as more and more people start reading solely on their Kindles and iPads, that annoyance can turn into a major problem.

Apple has devised a way to make it easier, and in the process has stepped on the turf of a Seattle entrepreneur.

Apple recently filed for a patent that would govern the attachment of a signature to a piece of digital media, like an album on iTunes or an e-book sold through the iBookstore.

The patent describes a method of adding a signature both in person and also through an online purchase, so that it would be possible to buy, for example, an autographed e-book copy of Neil Gaiman’s latest novel without even leaving your house.

That’s a nifty way to create premium e-books, but it’s also exactly what Authorgraph, a startup founded by Seattle entrepreneur Evan Jacobs, does. Authorgraph, which boasts an existing userbase of more than 7,000 authors, allows e-book buyers to get volumes on their digital bookshelf signed by the books’ authors, assuming those authors use Authorgraph.

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Some of the titles available on Authorgraph

“It appears that Apple’s filing is very similar to Authorgraph’s current system in that both enable authors to use a mobile device to sign a personalized autograph for a specific reader and then send that autograph to the reader so that it appears on the reader’s mobile device,” Jacobs said in an email.

The new patent filing means it’s possible that Jacobs is on the road to joining Stephen Orth in the pantheon of Seattle developers who have had their ideas “Sherlocked”– commandeered, whether knowingly or not–by Apple.

Of course, Apple files for a lot of patents (remember the Smart Bike?) over the course of doing business, and it’s very possible that they won’t actually be bringing the feature to market any time soon.

But even if Apple does move in on their turf, Jacobs says he thinks Authorgraph has a good chance to hold its own.

“Authorgraph would appear to have an advantage in that the service is accessible to any reader on any platform (e.g. Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, etc.). In addition, Authorgraph enjoys a strong relationship with thousands of authors (both self-published and traditionally published) who all understand that a startup can sometimes be more responsive to their feedback and feature requests than a larger company,” Jacobs said.

Previously on GeekWire: Sherlocked! Apple’s iOS 7 Photos app gives indie developer a taste of tradition

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