Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: Automobile satire not so satirical

Author:Jeremy Bowers
Posted:10/22/1999; 11:45:32 AM
Topic:Jeff Bezos' Patent
Msg #:12264 (In response to 12261)
Prev/Next:12263 / 12265

But patents aren't about implementation. They aren't about all the details of making a working version of the idea. If they were, someone with a different implementation wouldn't have a problem.


AFAIK, ...

The patentable object must be described in the patent to a sufficient degree to allow construction (last sentance of this page). Often, people will create something with a different implementation precisely to get around patents, which is why my Neon has a different design for the turn signal. (I don't know all the details, but some agreement with the patent holder expired or something and it was cheaper to design from scratch then renew the agreement... bad UI though, it took me weeks to relearn how to use it on an instinctive level.)

Of course, in return, the original patent holder tries to anticipate all possible variations and improvements (this FAQ calls it "Defensive Driving") so that you can't get around it so easily. Real world patents are frequently bypassed.

In theory, patents aren't about implementation; in reality, a patent can be for a specific implementation (machine/device/program) that performs a certain function that can not be easily duplicated. If somebody comes up with a vastly different machine that performs an identical function, then the new machine will not be a violation of the older patent, which covered the machine/process, not the result.

Herein lies the rub. How does one implement "One Click Shopping" without doing more-or-less precisely the same thing that Amazon does? Not only is it an obvious implementation, there's only one real way to do it.... minor differences depending on platforms (which I assume they've covered by using vague language such as "retrieve a Customer ID from a database" rather then "retrieve the CustID field from the Amazon.Cust.ID table in our Oracle 9.3.2b database on our Sun server with 512MB of ram using an ODBC connection provided by Microsoft on our...." you get the idea), but nothing significant. By taking that patent they prevent people from doing the obvious.

You're not supposed to be able to patent the idea of "doughnuts". Since there are many ways to make them, you can't. In essense, in the software world, there is only one real way to do something, so Amazon, while it is only patenting a particular process that results in One Click Shopping, ends up covering all the possible permutations of the process of One Click Shopping, and essentially patents an end result and not a process.

(You can code one click shopping in a virtually infinite number of ways... but how many really distinct processes are there to achieve that goal?)

How obvious is it? Like many other software patents, hundreds of programmers, if not informed about this patent, will stumble over it over the next few years. If that's not obvious, I don't know what is.

(This post is subject to correction by a real patent lawyer.)

PS: The patent is apparently available at this site.

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