Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Can Amazon's One-Click Patent (Granted In 1999) Infringe On A Patent Granted In 2004?

from the just-asking dept

Amazon's infamous "one-click" patent has seen plenty of challenges over the years -- mostly unsuccessful. Hell, there was even an entire organization called BountyQuest that was created to help find prior art to bust the patent -- and ended up shutting down when it couldn't find enough prior art to make a difference. More recently, a lone blogger turned up enough prior art to get the Patent Office to re-examine the one-click patent. While that process continues, it looks like Amazon may face a new challenge. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a company is suing Amazon for patent infringement, claiming that Amazon's one-click ordering system infringes on the company's patent.

Here's where things get a bit more interesting. The article does not give a patent number, but does give a basic description of the patent and the year it was issued, which suggests it is this patent on Object-based on-line transaction infrastructure (which was issued to the same company that's suing, though under a different name). Reading through the patent is a chore, as it's even less clear than most patents these days. However, hidden in all the confusing language, it seems to describe a system where a centralized computer system can transfer metadata to another computer, keeping it updated, so that it can be used to automate certain transactions.

Seen that way, you could see where it might run into some overlapping territory with the 1-click patent. Except... Amazon's patent was issued in 1999. This patent was issued in 2004. So, it's difficult to see how how the system invented five years earlier could infringe on the later invention -- though, it's certainly possible Amazon has changed how one-click works during the years, so that the newer system infringes. Alternatively, the newer patent notes that it is a continuation of certain earlier patents -- so perhaps that's how they get around the date issue (though, this sounds an awful lot like the tricks Jerome Lemelson was accused of pulling to update old patents to cover new products on the market, which eventually resulted in his controversial patents being invalidated by the courts). Either way, it would be nice to see more details -- but the initial facts surrounding the case seem to raise a lot more questions than they answer. Here's hoping that Tim Lee over at the Tech Liberation Front will give this patent a thorough review in his weekly software patent review.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Jon, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 3:51am

    the patent system

    isn't it supposed to help promote new inventions? doesn't it seem like it just ties everyone up in court instead?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Kevin, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 4:51am

    the patent system

    Agreed, remember awhile back didn't Ricrosoft patent smileys!

    What the hell is that all about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Jerry, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 5:48am

    The thing is, the 2004 patent can CERTAINLY be prior art to the 1999 patent. It's the date of invention that counts, NOT the date the patent was granted, or even when the application was filed. That 2004 patent could have taken 10 years (exaggerating) to be prosecuted. The issue dates tell you nothing. It's all about the date of invention (priority date) that they claim.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Phil, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 5:56am

    what's next?

    Can't wait until someone patents the Operation System...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Matthew, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 6:17am

    Re: the patent system

    the patent system by Kevin on Aug 9th, 2006 @ 4:51am
    Agreed, remember awhile back didn't Ricrosoft patent smileys!

    What the hell is that all about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 6:23am

    They still going on about that BS? Well, I need to order a book this week. I'll live with two clicks on another site. These idiotic companies don't consider how PR will effect them. I'm quick to dump one company for another, there's so much competition out there, how do you decide where to shop? For me, it's ethics.

    Abuse of the patent system is something I consider an issue. Sue away!! And while Amazon abuses patent law further, I'll be ordering from somewhere else. Doesnt' matter to me who ships the book to me /shrug

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Lion XL, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 7:15am

    Patent bloat

    The patent system is falling over on its needs a complete overhaul, one where the people granting the patents actually understand the patents they are granting.

    Specifically, tech patents need some sort of reveiw board or consortium to distinguish what is exactly a new invention and not just mark-up on technologies that have exsisted but not in so specific a manner as in the so-called patent.

    One-click shopping, be for real. One MS goals from the offset was to streamline the UI so it would minimiize the amount of clicks needed to complete a task, wouldn't one-click shopping fall under that umbrella? So how does amazon get the patent? Besides, isn't it just common sense that users would want the least amount of work to fulfill a task? so hiw does amazon get the patent?

    Maybe if they were patenting(sp?) a specific process I would understand, but its not the process they patented its the IDEA of one click shopping. Which I don't beleive is a truly novel invention, at least not in this day and age.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    ScaredOfTheMan, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 7:19am

    All Losing

    While high bandits and Paten Trolls get rich in the short term. Our country is losing global competition in innovation.

    Patents are a valuable thing, but in this day and age of hyper info sharing and innovation, I find them becoming almost irrelavent. China and India have no repespect for patents or IP, and they are quickly taking the lead by playing outside the rules.

    What are we going to do about it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Richard, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 7:21am

    Its not the patent

    Its not who filed the patent first that matters, its who invented it first (Though I hear some are trying to get the courts to change that). Thats how Alexander Graham Bell beat out his rival Elisha Gray, who patented his telephone related technologies first (And founded Western Electric, which was later combined with Bell's company southern Bell, becoming Southwestern Bell). Bell proved in court that he invented the phone switch before Gray, thereby, winning the patent away from Gray, who then sold his company Western Electric to Bell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    brock, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 7:24am

    As long as....

    The better stay the hell away from my 50-click shopping patent!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Claire Rand, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 7:34am

    global patents.

    with the net.. well surly a patent is a sort of lowest common denominator thingy?

    e.g. set up business in a banana republic and ignore some of the more trivial patents that country doesn't recognise?

    as long as you can get your product to the customer, and get your money from them. well its not strictly *your* prblem anymore just how many mouse clicks buying something takes.

    I mean have fun enforcing that 1-click patent in a country thats not exactly 100% US friendly. sure it will kill US sales (maybe) but its like, you can rule it illegal all you like, you don't have the power to enforce it.

    patents are not global... and only take effect in countries that recognise them, hence the fuss in the EU over software patents, cus if we decided not to recognise them a huge chunk of business could have moved. I'd say whats the states gunna do about it.. invade? but you never know after all. (last bits a joke btw)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    KLord, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 8:09am

    Re: Punished before found guilty

    Wow - Amazon is attacked, maybe correctly, maybe not, and you immediately assume the worst and jump ship before you even know if there's an water coming in. Amazing! So much for innocent until proven guilty!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    boomhauer (profile), Aug 9th, 2006 @ 8:12am


    im patenting sex. expect a cease and desist letter in the mail soon. well, not yall specifically but most other people.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Chris, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 10:04am


    The patent you link to (6,757,710) claims priority to at least part of its disclosure back to Feb. 1996, so it certainly is possible that the disclosure in the patent could both invalidate the 1-click patent, and implicate Amazon's subsequent activities in infringement. The accuser would likely be unable to go after infringement between 1996 and when the '710 issued unless they complied w/ various notice provisions, because there simply was not a property right until the '710 issued (amazon wasn't violating anybody's property right).

    Critically, a patent is the right to exclude others, not a right to practice. That Amazon had a patent on what it was doing is irrelvant to whether that activity was covered by another's patent.

    Jerry: for prior art purposes, it isn't the date of the invention, it is the date of the dislosure or the public use / sale (generally). Date of invention only matters in the US if there's more than one inventor claiming the invention as her own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Lay Person, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 10:05am

    One-Crap Patent...

    This whole approach to patenting is questionable.

    If you go back and look at the patents that Lemelson started with back in the '50s he cearly has no idea of robotics or mechanics.

    In a sense it is sort of like he's a fiction writer and he's conjuring up ideas without any solid understand of a working concept.

    Jules Vern and Orson Wells would have made a fortune if they patented their ideas via this method!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 11:15am

    Patents are good, but abused

    I don't know about promotion of inventions, but the primary purpose of patents (at least nowadays) is to protect an original idea so that other less creative people can't steal it, call it their own, and make millions off of it. Well, they can, until they get sued over it of course.

    However, the system is widely abused by all these lawsuits. I think the system needs to be redesigned so that it's much more thorough in establishing exactly what you are patenting. I think the biggest problem is that the documentation on some patents is so vague that it opens the doors for a bazillion pointless lawsuits because of the loose interpretation involved. There needs to be a guideline for accurate documentation, and not only that, there should be regulations involving researching existing patents when filing for new ones so that we don't end up in these "double-up" situations. With all the computer technology available today, such requests are not unreasonable.

    Our patent system, like everything else in this world, must learn how to change with the times, or else everything will fall apart and cause a big mess for everybody. And I think that's exactly what's happening now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    boomer, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 12:33pm

    My Patent

    Has any one patented electronic storage, search and retreival of patent information yet :) Reform may happen faster if the Patent Office is sued for infringment for the things that they use. If you want reform, patent anything and everything that the patent office will use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    boomhauer (profile), Aug 9th, 2006 @ 3:12pm

    another idea

    just had a thought... if every possible ridiculously simple idea in the universe is currently being patented, does that mean in 20 years, every ridiculously simple idea that has ever existed will have been patented and already expired, thus everyone will be free to do interesting things instead wasting time and money making lawyers rich?

    I think ill retire for now and plan to go back to work in 20 yrs ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    ewoc, Aug 9th, 2006 @ 9:07pm

    Re: One-Crap Patent...

    Dear Lay Person,

    How, exactly, would you have any knowledge of Jerome Lemelson's career during the 1950s? He received more than 600 patents during his career, and licensed numerous patents to companies such as Sony and IBM without resorting to ligitation. Those (relatively) few of us with direct knowledge of his career and his work have a somewhat more balanced view than that professed by a handful of hack reporters and corporate patent lawyers.

    Your letter paraphrases, almost verbatim, an AP article on Lemelson published late last year. You cite as fact statements in the story that were made by litigants in Lemelson cases, including the Jules Verne reference. Do you have any original ideas on the subject of patent law or reform of same, or are you simply regurgitating?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Lay Person, Aug 10th, 2006 @ 8:10am

    Re: Re: One-Crap Patent...

    My statement still stands.

    Yes, I regurgitated some of the information for the sake of this blog.

    Truth still remains that Lemelson had a pretty uneventful career and spent most of his time defending his patents...and losing.

    He had a penchant for thinking of stuff. So did Edison but for the most part Edison too was pretty much a nobody in any professional sense. Edison did what he did by sheer persistance and not by any stretch of genius. So too did Lemelson.

    I'd like to know, please provide explicit examples, what makes Lemelson all that you purport him to be. He was a nobody who abused the system so he could milk money from people when they stepped in his patent traps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    ewoc, Aug 10th, 2006 @ 4:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: One-Crap Patent...

    RE: Lay person's response

    "what makes Lemelson all that you purport him to be"

    What, exactly, did I purport him to be? I suggest that you re-read my post. I cited the number of patents granted to him (fact - not disputable). I also stated that companies, including IBM and Sony (among others) chose to negotiate and sign license agreements with him and pay royalties. Also fact, and not in dispute. That's essentially what I said.

    I did not mention that these patents included the drive mechanism for the Walkman, which Sony sublicensed to nearly every significant electronics company in Asia. Japanese companies knew of Lemelson's work and had considerable respect for him, by most accounts. That's all part of the record of his career, and in both cases (IBM and Sony) the negotiations occurred years - or decades- before the controversy over certain of his patents in the late 1990s that was the motivation for the recent spate of articles written about him.

    I also did not mention the extent and diversity of his patents, which is also part of the record - including toys, medical devices, electronics, industrial robots, numerous specific industrial processess, as well as automated warehousing (licensed to Molins, a UK company, in the 1960s, also part of the record). History may judge him to be a "nobody," but I am not sure how you are qualified to judge him as such, unless you have done more than read a sensationalized article on him. Anyone can repeat something they read in the newspaper, but does that make one an authority on a particular subject?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Mike (profile), Aug 10th, 2006 @ 5:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: One-Crap Patent...

    I suggest that you re-read my post. I cited the number of patents granted to him (fact - not disputable). I also stated that companies, including IBM and Sony (among others) chose to negotiate and sign license agreements with him and pay royalties. Also fact, and not in dispute. That's essentially what I said.

    Neither of those facts actually says very much about Lemelson's legacy.

    If the patents were questionable (as some clearly were), than who cares how many you got.

    Secondly, the fact that large companies chose to license them is meaningless. Companies often do that with patents they don't think are valid, knowing the process of litigation or getting a patent invalidated probably outweighs the license fee. That's what has made patent trolling such a lucrative profession these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    ewoc, Aug 10th, 2006 @ 8:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: One-Crap Patent...

    Re: Lay Person

    The Lemelson/Sony deal was signed in 1972. You probably weren't even born then. The Lemelson/IBM deal was signed in 1980. Lemelson had virtually no financial resources during this early period in his career, and his patent lawyers were of less than little consequence to these companies. If I am not mistaken, the term "patent troll" wasn't even conjured up till the 21st century!

    The idea that two major multi-nationals signed deals with an (at that point) unknown inventor to avoid litigation, when American courts during the period were notably hostile to patent claims by independent inventors, is absolutely ridiculous.

    You might consider the extent to which your feelings on this subject (I have chosen my words intentionally) have been shaped by a limited number of pretty biased media pieces. There is another side to this story, as is often the case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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