March 15, 2001, 4:06 PM — Does online bookseller Barnesandnoble.com Inc. now have the smoking gun it needs
to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by arch rival Amazon.com Inc. over alleged
infringement of a controversial patent on one-click shopping technology?
That's the question facing both companies after a Web site that lets companies
offer cash bounties in an effort to find information for use in patent disputes
said yesterday. A $10,000 reward is being paid in return for so-called "prior
art" that potentially could have a bearing on the case between Barnesandnoble
But it remains unclear whether the newly uncovered information, which is said
to point to the possible existence of earlier patents similar to the one held
by Amazon, will actually be useful to New York-based Barnesandnoble when the
infringement suit goes to trial later this year.
"This may play a role in the court case, or it may not," said Tim
O'Reilly, founder of Sebastopol, Calif.-based computer book publisher O'Reilly
& Associates Inc. and an investor in the patent search Web site that was
launched last fall by BountyQuest Corp. in Boston.
O'Reilly personally put up the $10,000 reward for prior art related to the
U.S. patent held by Amazon, which covers technology that lets online shoppers
place multiple orders without having to re-enter their billing and shipment
data. After Amazon was awarded the patent, O'Reilly and others argued that the
Seattle-based online retailer didn't invent the one-click process and was merely
the first company to register a patent on the technology.
After seeing the submissions made to BountyQuest, O'Reilly yesterday posted
a letter on his company's Web site saying that all the prior-art information
"submitted specifically for the Web confirms Amazon's belief that they
were doing something original" with the development of the one-click technology.
Amazon "appear[s] to have been staking out new territory in ease of use
for Web shopping," O'Reilly added. But, he said, Amazon's case in favor
of enforcing the patent "is not entirely watertight" and could become
more difficult because of his belief that the new prior-art information "sufficiently
narrows the scope of what Amazon can claim."
Amazon received the patent in October 1999 and sued Barnesandnoble for alleged
infringement two months later. A court injunction barring Barnesandnoble from
using one-click shopping technology was issued, but that was overturned on appeal
last month. A jury trial in the case is now scheduled to start in September
in U.S. District Court in Seattle.