Amazon.com’s infamous “one-click” patent has been accepted by New Zealand patent examiners and could be granted within weeks.
The patent is one of a number that have come to light following North American firm DE Technologies’ attempt to claim licensing fees from New Zealand online retailers, claiming breach of a patent it holds titled “Universal shopping center for international operation”.
Amazon copped heavy criticism in the US in 1999 when it sued its main competitor, Barnesandnoble.com, accusing it of infringing upon its “one-click” patent. The one-click system allows registered users to purchase an item by clicking on a single link. Many observers said the patent was an obvious use of HTTP cookies, a standard, unpatented feature of web browsers.
Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble eventually reached an out of court settlement in 2001.
The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand lists three Amazon patents on its website. Two have been granted and sealed — meaning the patent can be enforced — and the third, the “one-click” patent, has been accepted and is currently in a three-month public opposition period which ends on August 30. The website listed no objections yesterday.
It’s not the only controversial patent currently before IPONZ. Connecticut company Priceline.com famously sued Microsoft for patent infringement in 1999, claiming Microsoft’s Expedia hotel-booking system infringed its patents. Again, the parties settled out of court two years later.
Priceline.com has made at least four patent applications in New Zealand; two were abandoned, but two others are currently being examined by the patent office.
Some local retailers and developers have grouped together to co-ordinate opposition to DE Technologies’ licensing claim. A common theme is disappointment that the patent was granted in New Zealand. “It just seems unbelievable that a country could grant a patent so open-ended,” says e-tailer Kristina Cope.
Australians are watching the protest site keenly: DE Technologies has also applied for a patent in that country.
Patents are often secured in the US for defensive purposes, to protect a company from potential patent suits. However, both Amazon.com and Priceline.com have demonstrated a willingness to use their patents aggressively against a competitor.
Because both patent cases were settled out of court, neither has been overturned in US courtrooms. New Zealand firms are unlikely to have legal resources Microsoft and Barnes & Noble were able to offer in their defence.
Both Amazon.com and Priceline.com are being represented by AJ Park, the same law firm InternetNZ this week commissioned for an opinion on DE Technologies’ patent claim.
Peter Macaulay, InternetNZ’s executive director, says AJ Park’s opinion is expected soon. He expects to publish it on the InternetNZ website.
Patents like DE Technologies’ “devalue” true innovation, Macaulay says. “It’s protecting stuff that they didn’t have a right to have protected.”
Macaulay says it's clear the patent office is allowing software patents but believes it’s a mistake.
“We know they’re allowed, but why are they allowed? I can’t see a defensible reason for having these things patented.”
Asked what InternetNZ would do if the legal opinion said DE Technologies’ patent was valid, Macaulay says the internet community in New Zealand would need to work together. “We need to overturn the patent. All the parties involved need to chip in," he says.
“The second thing we need to do is to change our patent law.”