Amazon Actions Spur Protest Over Patent

FRAMINGHAM (03/07/2000) - Thousands of independent software developers last week publicly criticized Amazon.com Inc., Amazon.com President Jeffrey Bezos and the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (PTO) for obtaining and granting software patents they said were dangerous.

The developers were responding to an open letter to Bezos from Tim O'Reilly, president of technical book publisher O'Reilly & Associates Inc. in Sebastopol, Calif. The letter said the patent fails to meet tests for novelty and nonobviousness to an expert.

The conflict revolves around Amazon.com's patent last October of a technology it calls 1-Click, which enables customers to purchase items without re-entering shipping and billing information. Shortly after Amazon.com obtained the patent, it filed a suit against rival Barnesandnoble.com Inc. for patent infringement.

A judge ordered a preliminary injunction against Barnesandnoble.- com in December.

Experts say the impression left by Amazon.com's actions is that the company used the patent to cripple its competition. The case is now in appeal.

After Bezos "blew off" his letter, O'Reilly posted it Feb. 28 on the O'Reilly.com Web site, inviting visitors to add their opinions. O'Reilly said he estimated 6,000 responses had been posted by March 1.

"The PTO doesn't have a good handle on software prior art," said Greg Aharonian, a San Francisco author and publisher of "PatNews," an online newsletter covering software patent issues. According to Aharonian, during the past six years, half the issued software patents cite nothing as prior art and 80% cite nothing from notable sources.

Joe Rolla, the PTO's director of computer and communication technology, wasn't available for comment. Bezos wouldn't comment on the suit.

Barnesandnoble.com counsel Steve Wallach said patent officials have a history of issuing patents based on little research. "It's a widely held opinion that the patent office has been woefully unprepared to address e-commerce," noted Wallach, a partner at Pennie & Edmonds LLP in New York.

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