May 18, 2006

Cranky customer forces Amazon patent review

Author: Tina Gasperson

Peter Calveley is an actor who went through the motions to provide animation for the computer-generated orcs and elves in the "Lord of the Rings" film series. Last year, he generated a motion to have the Amazon one-click patent re-examined, and last week, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) agreed to have another look at the patentability of the controversial technology.

Calveley, a native New Zealander, says he spends about 50% of his work time in front of the camera. Recently has been working on designing fighting styles for a new computer game, "which is a bit of a change from live shows," he says. Another change has been his recent foray into the world of software patents.

Calveley got irritated with Amazon last year when, he claims, the company took too long to ship a book he ordered and paid for. "They insisted that they sent it via UPS but there was no tracking number," he writes in a blog entry. "UPS, when I called them, insisted that there had to be a tracking number!" A few weeks later he received the book, but felt that the slow delivery merited revenge in the form of "utu," an ancient part of Maori Law, which says that exacting payment from others for wrongdoing is an obligation.

So Calveley, who is not an attorney but says he once passed one of the tests required to become a patent attorney in New Zealand, dug up some prior art on Amazon's one-click technology and drew up the papers. Specifically, he challenged the eleventh section of Amazon's patent application, which states:

11. A method for ordering an item using a client system, the method comprising: displaying information identifying the item and displaying an indication of a single action that is to be performed to order the identified item; and in response to only the indicated single action being performed, sending to a server system a request to order the identified item whereby the item is ordered independently of a shopping cart model and the order is fulfilled to complete a purchase of the item.

"This seems to give Amazon a monopoly on the very idea of 'shopping with one click,'" he writes. He referenced patent 5,729,594 and some old Web archive information about DigiCash. With that technology, Calveley writes, "If the client has been configured to respond automatically, the requested item identified by the payment link (such as a downloaded file or access to a web page) is automatically delivered to the client and payment is made by the client."

Through outside donations, Calveley raised the $2,520 filing fee, and last week, the USPTO notified him that his request for re-examination was granted. The response states in part that the request raises a "substantial new question of patentability of claims."

Calveley thinks that a final resolution could be a long time coming. And then there are the lawyers. "As I had to serve a copy on Amazon's lawyers when I first sent my request to the USPTO, they have had a log of time to prepare their first response," he says. "However, I suspect they will try to drag things out for as long as possible."


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