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Technology guru Tim O’Reilly decided Thursday that the close-but-no-cigar method wasn’t the best way prove his point about the absurdity of business method patents. O’Reilly’s staff announced that he has decided to split a $10,000 “bounty” he posted for evidence to debunk Amazon.com’s controversial patent over the 1-Click method of online shopping among three candidates whose material came the closest to fulfilling the request. The change of heart came one day after the company he jointly posted the reward with, BountyQuest, announced that there were 30 submissions — citing everyone from Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau to barfly Norm from Cheers — but no $10,000 winner. BountyQuest is a Boston-based Web site through which companies can post “bounties” for “prior art” that would lead to the dismissal of a patent. Ironically, both O’Reilly and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are investors. “I’ve decided to split the $10,000 Bounty on Amazon’s 1-Click patent between the three submitters who unearthed prior art that strikes at the heart of Amazon’s claims,” O’Reilly, founder of high-tech information provider O’Reilly & Associates, wrote in an article posted on his company’s Web site. “Even though these three submissions didn’t meet every one of the terms of the bounty, they are so significant that I wanted to reward their efforts.” The three “winners” include a former U.S. Patent Office examiner, now an attorney, who submitted a European Union patent from 1995 covering one-button shopping with a TV remote control. That was the submission experts said came closest to proving that Amazon’s patent was on an “obvious” idea that had been previously employed. But two others were also tapped as winners, including a London attorney who submitted a U.S. patent on the use of a remote data terminal to place orders and a program manager with a California technology firm who submitted his own patented invention covering single-action purchasing over radio broadcasts. Lacking from the list were some of the more colorful submissions. In pursuit of O’Reilly’s “bounty” of $10,000, BountyQuest received such items as a 1993 Doonesbury comic strip that describes “Boopsie’s virtual shopping spree” where “you point at it” and the computer bills your purchase to your credit card. Episodes of “Star Trek” and “Cheers” were also cited, including one in which “Cheers” character Norm orders a beer with one command. O’Reilly personally posted the $10,000 bounty as a personal challenge to Bezos after the two became embroiled in a public dispute over the validity of patents awarded for business methods, a description of the way a company does business. Critics complain that these patents stray too far from the technological advances that patent laws were created to protect and, instead, allow competitors to claim protection of rather obvious ideas and methods. Both O’Reilly and Bezos later became investors in BountyQuest, which has held 25 different contests and has announced five winners so far. The contest over 1-click was BountyQuest’s most high-profile bounty. The reason is that Amazon and rival Barnesandnoble.com have been engaged in a lawsuit over the patent since 1999. That’s when Amazon argued that the Express Lane feature on Barnesandnoble’s site infringed on its patent for the 1-Click method. In December 1999, a federal judge issued an injunction against Barnesandnoble, which now uses a two-click ordering procedure. But a federal appeals court in Washington state lifted the injunction last month, at least until the trial, which is scheduled to begin in September. Amazon said the lack of a winner shows its patent is solid. But an attorney for Barnesandnoble.com said the evidence unearthed might damage Amazon’s patent claims. O’Reilly used the occasion to press his criticisms of business-method patents. “The fact that the idea of 1-Click shopping was even lampooned in cartoons years before Amazon’s “invention” suggests that the bar on “obviousness” has been set far too low,” he wrote. “The simple transposition of existing or obvious ideas onto a new medium such as the Web should not be treated as an invention worthy of government-backed monopoly protection.” 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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