Originally Published: Wednesday, 1 March 2000 Author: Matt Michie
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Taking to the Streets

Amazon.com stunned the Internet again with another ludicrous patent. They first caused an uproar last December with US patent 5,960,411, which patented the process of purchasing an item with the click of a mouse. Yes, Amazon has the exclusive right to the Internet equivalent of walking into a Mom and Pop grocery store and telling them to put a purchase onto your "tab."

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Amazon.com stunned the Internet again with another ludicrous patent. They first caused an uproar last December with US patent 5,960,411, which patented the process of purchasing an item with the click of a mouse. Yes, Amazon has the exclusive right to the Internet equivalent of walking into a Mom and Pop grocery store and telling them to put a purchase onto your "tab." This procedure both has examples of prior art and is not a novel concept to anyone qualified in the field. In fact, it's a painfully obvious application of HTML cookies. A competent Web programmer could implement a front end to a sales database with this functionality in under a week. Yet, Amazon.com claims that they "spent thousands of hours" developing their One-Click(R) shopping.

Now, they've also been granted a patent on Internet referral programs. Funny, I thought that it was going to be Microsoft pulling these kinds of tactics onto the Linux community. If the Open Source community doesn't put a high price on using these tactics now, we'll be paying a price ourself when Microsoft or some other company decides to actually implement some of the ideas contained in the Halloween Documents.

Is Amazon.com completely to blame for this fiasco? No. The United States Patent and Trademark Office is also a culprit in awarding unjust and unreasonable patents. It seems the original ideal that Congress had -- "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries" (US Constitution, Article 1 Section 8) -- has been subverted. Increasingly, instead of being used to promote progress, patents are used as a business tool to harass competitors. While doing some research, I came across an interesting article aimed at business executives entitled "Being Prepared For U.S. Litigation Can Make All The Difference". It assumes patents will be eventually be used in an offensive or defensive lawsuit.

Even worse, the US Patent and Trademark Office is "not yet equipped to handle general e-mail correspondence." They point you to a telephone number! How are these folks supposed to grant exclusive monopolies on Internet technologies when they don't even have an e-mail address?

This nonsense has to stop here before it gets worse. The Internet and Open Source has thrived in an open, information sharing environment. Amazon.com itself uses the Open Source Apache Web server, which was developed collaboratively over the Internet. There is still so much untapped potential that would be irreparably harmed if locked up in bogus patents. I urge everyone to boycott Amazon.com, and sign Tim O'Reilly's Open Letter to Jeff Bezos.

Matt Michie is a Computer Science student living in New Mexico. He maintains a small web page at http://web.nmsu.edu/~mmichie.





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