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Amazon sues Barnes & Noble over checkout system

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Amazon.com is suing barnesandnoble.com for alleged patent infringement, but as with the similar priceline.com versus Expedia case last month, the challenge is effectively whether a business process can be properly protected by a patent. Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos claims in a nine-page declaration accompanying the writ that it took nearly six months and 3,500 hours to program its 1-click ordering system in September 1997, but since all online retailers have some form of tracking system for orders, the appropriateness of patent protection would certainly seem to be questionable. Amazon's patent was applied for in 1997 and granted in September. Barnesandnoble.com came up with Express Lane, a functionally-similar system, in May 1998, but there is no allegation of code copying. A part of the problem is that amazon.com came from nowhere in July 1995 and caught the monster traditional book company napping: it was not until May 1997 that barnesandnoble.com came online, with backing from Germany's Bertelsmann. In the US, the battle is seen as one of the earlier skirmishes in what is expected to become a rapidly expanding e-commerce battleground, but many people internationally are becoming concerned at the readiness to grant US patents for seemingly inappropriate reasons, so some international showdown would appear to be inevitable before long. ®

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