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Amazon's Grasp on One-Click Patent May Be Slipping

Amazon.com was taken to task Wednesday regarding whether the e-tailer has a rightful hold on the one-click shopping technology.

Although Amazon.com filed with the patent office in 1997, and was issued patent '411 in 1999, findings by two independent searches show that examples of the technology were cited before the company opened its doors for business.

On Wednesday, 30 responses to a challenge issued by open-source advocate Tim O'Reilly last October were revealed by BountyQuest, an Internet destination where companies post cash rewards for vital information.

Meanwhile, M-CAM, a Virginia-based company that has developed a sophisticated data management system for patents, released its own report outlining the history of the '411 patent, similar inventions that predate the patent, the litigation that has resulted since the '411 licensing, as well as observations about the future of Amazon.com's hold on the technology.

References to the one-click technology were cited by Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau in a 1993 comic strip, US Patent #5303393 "Integrated Radio Satellite Response System and Method" filed in 1994, and European Patent #0680 185 A2, "A Distributed Computer System" filed in 1995, among others, according to BountyQuest.

O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Associates, a technical service provider, used the BountyQuest site to offer a $10,000 reward to anyone who could provide evidence demonstrating that certain elements in the 1-Click patent were invented before Amazon head Jeff Bezos' patent filing date.

Although no submissions were accurate enough to win the cash, the findings may have a strong impact on Amazon and its use of its one-click patent as well as on the future of business patents overall.

For instance, the findings released Wednesday may ultimately squelch the ongoing lawsuit Amazon filed against Barnes & Noble in 1999, charging BN's "Express Lane" shopping order system infringed on Amazon's patent.

Although BN Spokesperson Gus Carlson declined to comment on today's findings, a lawyer for the case went on record with this comment:

"While we ultimately prevailed on appeal with the references that we located, we didn't have any of the prior art found through BountyQuest going into the preliminary injunction hearing," said Ron Daignault, an attorney from Pennie and Edmonds in New York. "When the clock was ticking, having BountyQuest on our side would have been a real asset; and of course, the art they found is now available for others to use."

It was noted that finding evidence regarding previously filed patents can be a slow and tedious process. "Patents can be a goal or they can ultimately slow down innovation," O'Reilly noted, "The difficulty of sorting through a legal system of patents means you take on an army of lawyers. The problem, if you are a non-lawyer, is that the process makes your head hurt."

According to M-CAM, the events surrounding the Amazon.com '411 patent proves the need for patent due diligence to evaluate both uncited prior trade and government documents.

"The enforceability of the '411 patent will undoubtedly affect impact licensing revenue to Amazon.com, the ecommerce marketplace and the future of business process patents," said David Martin, CEO of M-CAM. "The business patent method has enjoyed the brightest day of the sunlight it will ever see. It is likely there will be a signifi