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VNU Net: Developers threaten to boycott Amazon.com

Mar 10, 2000, 16:45 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Geralds)

By John Geralds, VNU Net

Thousands of software developers are threatening to boycott Amazon.com after the online bookseller angered them by suing rival Barnesandnoble.com over an alleged patent infringement.

Amazon sued its competitor in October last year for allegedly copying its 1-Click feature, which enables consumers to shop without going through multiple steps or needing to re-enter their shipping and billing information each time they buy. Amazon alleges that Barnesandnoble.com's Express Lane facility is based on its patented technology.

But talks are now taking place between Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and chief executive, and Tim O'Reilly, president of technical book publisher, O'Reilly & Associates, who is leading the charge against the giant etailer.

O'Reilly wrote to Bezos expressing his concern that the company's decision to sue Barnesandnoble.com would stifle the further development of ecommerce. He also asked the company to stop enforcing the patent.

"It is our belief that this patent was granted without adequate review of prior art, and further, that even were it ultimately found valid, such broad patents serve only to hold back further innovation," O'Reilly wrote.

When he didn't receive a reply from Bezos, he asked supporters to sign a petition and received 10,000 responses in five days before closing the drive.

While many of the signatories are clamouring for a boycott, O'Reilly appears to be holding back. While the petition brought Bezos to the table, O'Reilly seems to be holding the petition threat as an ace card.

Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and one of the original developers of what became the Linux operating system, has urged the boycott to go ahead, however. He fears Amazon will use a series of follow-up suits to suppress internet commerce.

But in Bezos' view the 1-Click technology is patentable, not because of how it is implemented, but because of how it changed ecommerce from a shopping cart to a one simple click model, and because the idea was innovative when it was introduced.

Bezos also explained that the move against Barnesandnoble.com was a defensive one, noting that by retail standards his company was small, while Barnes and Noble was huge and could put Amazon.com out of business. "We don't want to be another Netscape," he said.

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