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VNU Net: Amazon CEO moves to pacify outraged developer community

Mar 12, 2000, 16:41 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Geralds)

By John Geralds, VNU Net

"Amazon.com's chief executive Jeff Bezos has moved to deflect criticism of his company's patent policy, saying he will lead an effort to try and revamp the US's patent issuing procedures.

The action follows the threat of a boycott by thousands of software developers over the online retailer's decision to sue rival Barnesandnoble.com to enforce a patent it was awarded for its "1-Click" method of ordering goods over the internet.

The developers believe that the patent should never have been issued in the first place as there was ample evidence of "prior art" and they claimed that the lawsuit was merely an attempt to stifle internet innovation.

But Bezos is now attempting to pacify the community by posting an open letter to the firm's website announcing his patent plan.

In the document, he defended both Amazon's right to the patent - and another one it owns related to its affiliates programme - and the firm's action against Barnes and Noble.

But he added: "I now believe it's possible that the current rules governing business method and software patents could end up harming all of us - including Amazon.com and its many shareholders, the folks to whom I have a strong responsibility, not only ethical, but legal and fiduciary as well."

As a result, he said he was prepared to lead a lobby on Congress to try and have the rules regarding patents modified.

Such changes would include shortening the time that a business process or software patent is valid for from 17 to three to five years. He also advocates the introduction of a short public comment period before a number is issued for business method and software patents to enable discussion of the prior art issue.

Tim O'Reilly, the man who led the protest against Amazon and organised the 10,000 signature petition, welcomed Bezos' action. O'Reilly is founder of technical books publisher, O'Reilly & Associates.

"After all, if Time Magazine's Man of the Year says that the patent system has gotten out of hand, that may well have more impact on the powers that be than if 10,000 relatively anonymous programmers do so" he wrote on the company's website, where the issue has been debated at length.

And for those sceptical of Bezos' motives, he added: "One thing about a call for action in Washington is that it could be seen as just a way of shifting the focus away from Amazon and on to the PTO (Patent and Trades Office). I don't think that is what Jeff is trying to do--but one way to tell that for sure is by the amount of follow up we see over the next few months."

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