Gutting of Amazon patent was helped by Amazon-owned company

Robbing Peter to rob Peter


The New Zealand performance artist who brought down Amazon.com’s one-click patent said that he gained much of his information from a subsidiary of Amazon itself. He also said that he acted because so little happens in New Zealand that he was bored.

Peter Calveley told technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio that he had gathered much of his information for his campaign to have the patent revoked from archive.org, whose information is provided by Alexa, an Amazon company.

“Archive.org and the Wayback Machine which archives web pages was especially useful, the irony being that all the information for it is provided by Alexa which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon,” he said. “So thanks. Amazon.”

Calveley said he is not an anti-patent zealot or an advocate for the reform of the whole US patent system, but that he engaged in an 18-month lone battle with one of the internet’s most successful companies because he was bored.

“I live in New Zealand. New Zealand is a very boring place. You have to come up with something to do,” he said. “I was toying with the idea and then I got annoyed by this book that was a bit late so I thought well, why not?”

Many activists in the US are campaigning for reform of the US patent system because they say that patents are awarded to technology companies too easily, and covering too broad an area. They say patents are often awarded for obvious technology or innovations that have already been invented.

US patent law forbids the identification of earlier versions of an invention – called prior art – by third parties, except in the very early stages of a patent application.

Calveley, though, filed a request for a full re-examination of the patent in question, and was successful in persuading the US Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO) that 21 of the patent’s 26 claims ought to be struck down. In doing so, he may have found a viable vehicle for opposition to patents that campaigners might use.

“I think that there are a lot of people out there who have amazing expertise and knowledge in the prior art, and they’re just not applying themselves to opposing patents when they really could,” he said. “I do think that re-examination can give you a lot of bang for your buck compared to litigation and court.”

Amazon’s 1-Click patent became famous in the late 1990s when the company asserted it against competitor book shop Barnes and Noble, which wanted to challenge Amazon’s dominance of online book sales.

Calveley discovered a system, called Digicash, from the early 1990s which allowed the payment and transfer of money and which, he said, incorporated a one-click system. “They didn’t even think of patenting it, they just thought it was such a minor feature,” he said.

Amazon now has the opportunity to respond to the USPTO examiner’s view that 21 of the 26 claims should be rejected.

See: Amateur vs Amazon

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.


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