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During the past five months, dozens of intellectual property sleuths have been trying to find enough evidence to debunk one controversial patent: the patent that Amazon.com has on the process of using just one mouse click to place an online order. The reward for finding such evidence? Ten thousand dollars and the undying gratitude of Amazon’s e-retailing competitors. But every detective failed. While many came close, no one qualified for the reward that had been offered by technology guru Tim O’Reilly. The search was held by BountyQuest, a Web site on which companies post cash rewards for the kind of “prior art” that would lead to the dismissal of a patent. Some of the submissions deserve an “A” for effort. Among the submissions BountyQuest received was a 1993 Doonesbury comic strip that described “Boopsie’s virtual shopping spree,” in which “you point at it” and the computer bills your purchase to your credit card. Entrants also cited episodes of “Star Trek” and a beer-ordering method used on “Cheers.” More relevant, experts said, is a 1995 European patent that describes 1-click shopping over an interactive TV platform. “In terms of the popular perception of the 1-click patent, yes, we knocked it out,” said O’Reilly, founder of high-tech information provider O’Reilly & Associates. “In terms of the actual legal claims of the patent, which involves 20 or 30 claims, no, the patent as a whole is not invalidated.” O’Reilly posted the $10,000 bounty as a personal challenge to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The two men had become embroiled in a public dispute over the validity of patents awarded for business methods — descriptions of the way companies do business. Critics complain that these patents stray too far from the technological advances that patent laws were created to protect, allowing companies to claim ownership of ideas and methods that are really rather obvious. Both O’Reilly and Bezos wound up as investors in BountyQuest, which has held 25 different contests and announced five winners so far. BountyQuest chief executive Charles Cella, a patent attorney, said the reason for the lack of a winner in the 1-click challenge was that the patent held by Amazon is more specific than one that merely describes a method for placing an order. In order to debunk the whole patent, someone would have to address the other technical aspects of the patent, including that it is a single-action component of a server system and that it displays information identifying the item under control of a client system. “It was really a tough bounty to win,” Cella said. The contest over 1-click was BountyQuest’s most high-profile bounty because Amazon and rival Barnesandnoble.com have been embroiled in a lawsuit over that particular patent since 1999. That was the year that Amazon argued that the Express Lane feature on Barnesandnoble’s site infringed on Amazon’s patent for the 1-Click method. In December 1999, a federal judge issued an injunction against Barnesandnoble.com, which now uses a different two-click ordering procedure. A federal appeals court in Washington state lifted the injunction last month until the trial. That trial is scheduled to begin in September. Amazon said the lack of a winner shows that its patent is solid. “BountyQuest has made a determination that the prior art they unearthed does not invalidate the claims made in Amazon’s patent,” said Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith. “We remain confident that the 1-Click patent is valid.” But an attorney for Barnesandnoble.com said the evidence unearthed might damage Amazon’s patent claims in the long run. “We definitely think we have a stronger case,” said Ron Daignault, an attorney with Pennie & Edmonds in New York, which represents Barnesandnoble.com. “The BountyQuest search shows there are a lot of things out there that you can tap into.” Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Patent Pundits on Parade Amazon.com Sues, Media Snicker Amazon Sues Barnesandnoble.com Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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