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Patent failure and why it matters to you

June 24, 2011

In the US, Amazon has a patent on “One Click Purchasing” on the Internet.

No other online property in the US is allowed to offer “one click buying“. Barnes and Noble have a two click process. Two clicks isn’t as fast. This is effectively a patent on a way of doing business.

Wait, you say: I’ve made one click purchases at iTunes. Good eye:. that’s because Amazon and Apple cross license their patents. Which is good news for Amazon, because Apple was just awarded a patent that says:

“Apple on Tuesday was awarded U.S. patent number 7,966,578 for “[a] computer-implemented method, for use in conjunction with a portable multifunction device with a touch screen display, [that] comprises displaying a portion of page content, including a frame displaying a portion of frame content and also including other content of the page, on the touch screen display.”

This is a patent for a touchscreen phone. If you have a touchscreen phone in your pocket, and it isn’t an iPhone, things could get a little dicey. As for the customers, we could face lack of choice because only the iPhone can have the touchscreen.

And that is mobile. Getting back to Amazon’s “One Click Purchasing”, it is actually worse online.  In their book “Patent Failure” (, James Bessen & Michael J. Meurer write:

“According to David M. Martin, CEO of a patent risk management firm, “if you’re selling online, at the most recent count there are 4,319 patents you could be violating. If you also planned to advertise, receive payments for, or plan shipments of your goods, you would need to be concerned with approximately 11,000.”

The internet is supposed to be a free place for any business to succeed, but it appears to be a place that’s highly regulated – by patents.

Here are some real US patents from the book:

  • a peanut-butter-and-jelly sand­wich (U.S. Patent No. 6,004,596)
  • a method of using a backyard swing (U.S. Patent No. 6,368,227)
  • a method of combing hair over a bald spot (U.S. Patent No. 4,022,227)

If you want to learn more about the absurdity of patents, listen to the Search Engine Podcast called Patently Absurd.

Have you ever registered for a patent? Have you gotten a cease and desist letter? We did once for “Watch and Win”, I think. Turns out, you’re not allowed to say “Watch and Win” when the thing being watched is online.

What is the silliest patent you’ve seen?

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