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O'Reilly Network: Tim O'Reilly's Open Letter: Rethinking the One-Click Patent

Mar 14, 2001, 19:16 (19 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tim O'Reilly)

[ Thanks to S.Ramaswamy for this link. ]

"People in many areas of commerce, not just on the Web but also TV and radio (as evidenced by some of our prior art submissions), have put a lot of thought into making the shopping experience quicker and easier. And yet none of these folks really managed to simplify it to the same degree that Amazon did with 1-Click. In the end, we did not have a winner, and it doesn't look as if the prior art submitted can "knock out" the 1-Click patent. We did, however, turn up compelling prior art that would never have surfaced in the typical search process, and that potentially narrows the scope and impact of the patent."

"So I want to offer Jeff something of an apology. At the same time, at the risk of appearing a "sore loser," I want to reiterate that my fundamental issue with Amazon was never the specific claims of the 1-Click patent. Even if Amazon did create a genuine e-commerce innovation, I maintain that it was still a mistake for them to patent it. They built their business on the backs of Web pioneers who freely shared their work and collectively developed a world-changing technology. I believe Amazon was short-sighted in trying to keep its innovations to itself rather than keeping the web development "flow" going. It's a truism in business that all of the smart people don't work for you. If Amazon wants to reap further benefit from others' Web innovations, they need to nourish the spirit that created the Web in the first place. By filing and then seeking to enforce the 1-Click patent, Amazon alienated the web developers who'd built much of the platform they rely on, and who, in addition, were among their best customers. Despite the results we got from BountyQuest, I still think Amazon made the wrong move."

"There's still lots of opportunity to rectify this mistake. Amazon has developed a lot of fascinating technology innovations. They should let others imitate them if they can, or even better, license them freely to others, so we can keep e-commerce a vibrant frontier where we're building the future together, rather than a battleground where the last company standing finds that the battle may not have been worth winning after all."

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