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Court Hands Barnes & Noble.com a Legal Victory

A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned a preliminary injunction granted by a lower court judge in Seattle in December 1999 prohibiting Barnes & Noble.com from using one-click shopping technology that allegedly infringed on arch-rival Amazon.com's online shopping tool.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found, after careful review, "that BN has mounted a substantial challenge to the validity of the patent in the suit."

"Because Amazon.com is not entitled to preliminary injunctive relief under these circumstances, we vacate the order of the district court that set the preliminary injunction in place and remand the case for further proceedings," the Circuit Court wrote in an unusually harshly worded ruling.

But Amazon.com officials were quick to counter that Wednesday's ruling "in no way resolves the ultimate question of validity" of the patented technology. The online book reseller remains confident that its one-click patent is valid.

The case involves a patent for one-click shopping technology that was awarded to Amazon.com on Sept. 29, 1999. On Oct. 21, 1999, Amazon.com sued Barnes & Noble.com for allegedly infringing on the technology with its "Express Lane" feature, which refers to single-action ordering of items in a client/server environment such as the Internet. In its case, Amazon documented the development of the "shopping cart model" purchase system for electronic commerce purchasing events.

U.S. District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman for the Western District of Washington granted injunctive relief in December 1999 barring Barnes & Noble from using what Amazon.com termed its "copycat version."

"What this means is that the case goes back to trial," said Gus Carlson, BN spokesperson. "Because the case is ongoing, our policy is to not give further comment at this time."

In official statement released by BN, the company had this to say:

"We are pleased with the ruling today, and gratified by the court's statement that BarnesandNoble.com 'raised substantial questions as to the validity' of the one-click patent. We believe the ruling validates our position that the allegations brought against us by Amazon.com are completely without merit and we will continue to vigorously defend our position when the case is returned to the trial court.

"We have said throughout this case that we do not intend to sit back and allow Amazon.com to stake a claim upon any technology that is widely used. Allowing them to do so abridges our rights as a leader in e-commerce, but more important limits the choices of customers. We consider the customer, not the retailer, to be at the heart of e-commerce," the company said.

The trial is currently scheduled for September 10, 2001 in Seattle, WA.

Michael Chait, associate editor of seattle.internet.com, contributed to this article.



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