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Bezos Calls for Changes in Patent Law in Letter
to Amazon Customers

By Michael J. Martinez   Associated Press
SEATTLE — 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 wrote.

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 software patents.

"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 "If the patent is outdated in a few years anyway, who cares if the lifespan is five years or 17 years?"

Instead, Linder said the Patent and Trademark Office's standards for patenting new technologies and innovations need to be revised and strengthened.

"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 alone."

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 passed.

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