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Amazon patents 'customer review incentives'

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The self-described patent reform advocates at Amazon.com don't seem to have broken their habit of putting legal hooks on just about anything they dream up.

Last Tuesday, Amazon was awarded a patent for "creating an incentive to author useful item reviews."

The patent describes a method of "rewarding the authors of reviews found to be useful by their readers, such as by prominently displaying their names and ranks as authors of useful reviews prominently on the web merchant's web site."

In practice, it's giving customers "badges" for writing product reviews based on whether others found the submission useful or not. (Kudos to Techdirt for the tip. We'd give you a badge to show our appreciation, but...)

Such an (arguably) obvious idea handed off to the US Patent Office could probably be overlooked nowadays if not for the sweet irony of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos calling way back in 2000 for "fewer patents, of higher average quality."

Then again, Bezos' usage of "average" does leave room for some standard deviation. Clever.

But at least Amazon's latest patent isn't likely to be a repeat of the vendor's much publicized 1-Click crusade. Ebay and other retailers that use similar customer review rating systems can breathe a sigh of relief.

Amazon has mercifully narrowed the process down to a particular formula* for awarding a score for customer reviews. And given the patent's original submission date being April 2001, it's clear the USPO was obliged to give the filing a good deal of scrutiny this round as well.

The vendor's infamous 1-Click trouble began in 1999 when it was awarded a patent for allowing customers to purchase items without having to enter shipping and billing information each time. Its legal team was soon unleashed against rival online book vendor, Barnes and Noble which also allowed customers to skip the metaphorical shopping cart system. The immediate result of Amazon's legal campaign was a cooling effect on similar conveniences across online retailers.

Eventually, the patent was toppled and then narrowed to identify a more specific process.

Benzos then became an advocate for patent reform, teaming with Tim O'Reilly who once vowed to defeat the 1-Click patent until Bezos became an attraction at 2.0'Reilly events.

Then everyone at Amazon got amnesia and it was back to business as usual. ®

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