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RealTime IT News

Amazon Wins New Patent

Amazon.com, which for some time has been accumulating patents on some of its basic business applications such as its one-click shopping technology, has secured another patent, this one on a "method and system for conducting an electronic discussion relating to an item."

Based on the description, the patent would appear to cover Web-based, bulletin-board type discussions (portions of which might be e-mailed) about items offered for sale or items being sought after for purchase.

The technology is not currently in use on the Amazon.com site, company spokesman Bill Curry told internetnews.com.

How broadly the patent could be applied is somewhat unclear, but Curry said "it's related to allowing someone to conduct a discussion with other people about an item... it could be an out-of-print, hard-to-get book that someone wants to talk about."

The abstract for the patent, No. 6,525,747, says that "the discussion system... receives comments relating to the selected item and generates a message that includes a description of the selected item and the received comments. The discussion system then sends the generated message to participants of the discussion..."

The patent was applied for by Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on Aug. 12, 1999.

Asked when the technology might be implemented, Curry would say only that "in terms of what you might see in the future, we never talk about what we may or may not do, or when."

Amazon has defended its patented one-click purchasing technology, and sued barnesandnoble.com in October 1999, claiming that its technology had been copied. The suit was settled in March of last year, but the terms were kept confidential.

The filing of that and other such lawsuits has prompted complaints from critics about "business method" patents, which skeptics contend are overly broad and unoriginal concepts that abuse the patent system and stifle innovation. There's even a company in San Diego called PanIP or Pangea Intellectual Properties that is apparently going around suing small Web site operators, claiming that it has, in essence, a patent on the very concept of e-commerce.

That effort is a part of what patent experts say is a growing trend in which small companies latch onto very broad patents and then threaten to sue businesses that are using the Internet for commerce. Defendants in such suits can get more information at a Web site called www.youmaybenext.com, sponsored by some of the targets of such lawsuits.