Even though Amazon.com stands to make money off
of its two major Internet commerce patents, company founder and
Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos wants Congress to revamp the
national patent system.
In a letter to customers and Internet users Thursday, Bezos
responded to allegations that the Web retailer unfairly patented
two common electronic commerce features: a system for purchasing
items with a single mouse click, and an affiliates system that
allows other Web site owners to get a cut of sales referred to
Amazon via links on the World Wide Web.
"We got a lot of feedback on this issue, and when I thought
about it, I realized that they had a good point," Bezos said in an
interview with The Associated Press. "We really need a fundamental
reworking of the patent system."
Bezos said instead of issuing software patents for a 17-year
term, as is standard today, the U.S Patent and Trademark Office
should only issue patents valid for three to five years.
"Especially in the age of the Internet, a good software
innovation can catch a lot of wind in three or five years," Bezos
He also proposed a one-month public comment period prior to
issuing patents so other companies, which might have a better
patent claim, could ensure their rights are protected.
Walter Linder, a patent attorney with Faegre & Benson LLP in
Minneapolis, welcomed Bezos' statement and involvement, but he
questioned whether a shorter period of time was the answer to
"In a lot of cases on the Internet, a shorter patent lifespan
is immaterial," Linder said. "If the patent is outdated in a few
years anyway, who cares if the lifespan is five years or 17
Instead, Linder said the Patent and Trademark Office's standards
for patenting new technologies and innovations need to be revised
"I'm a patent attorney, and I'm actually embarrassed about some
of the things that get patented," Linder said. "It's way too easy
to show that something is new enough to get patented."
Despite his call for reform, Bezos said Amazon.com will retain
its One-Click and Amazon Affiliate patents, saying the company will
only enforce its patents "when there are important business
reasons for doing so."
Amazon.com has already won a preliminary injunction against
rival bookseller barnesandnoble.com for using a technology similar
to the One-Click sales method. To comply with the injunction,
barnesandnoble.com simply added another step to the sales process:
a confirmation page that requires one more click before a sale is
made and the product is shipped.
Amazon's other patent, awarded Feb. 22, give Amazon exclusive
rights to technologies that create online affiliate programs. In an
affiliate program, which are common to most e-commerce site
throughout the Internet, the owner of a Web site can list part of a
retailer's catalog on his or her site, then link to the retailer to
complete the transaction. The affiliate then gets a percentage of
the transaction as a referral fee.
"If you look at the patents we've received, we've only chosen
to enforce one of them in one particular case," Bezos said. "We
plan to look at this on a case-by-case basis and determine if we
need to license it or take some kind of action. Or just leave it
To further his ideas of patent reform, Bezos and a handful of
friends, including technology publisher Tim O'Reilly, have
contacted members of Congress in the hopes of getting legislation