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First Come, First Sue

Patents on everyday Web innovations could hurt large and small e-businesses.

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This story appears in the June 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

How fast is your Web site shopping checkout? Just one click? How do you bring new customers to your Web site? Through partner sites? You may be infringing on an Amazon.com patent and not even know it. Much to the chagrin of the Net community, Amazon.com patented its "1-Click" checkout in 1999 and its affiliate-program technology this year.

Both patents fall under the vague "business method" patent category that allows 17 years of protection. If it sounds like a far-off threat, it's not: Amazon.com didn't hesitate to bring a case against Barnesandnoble.com for its version of the 1-click checkout. The case is still pending, but Barnesandnoble.com had to change its system in the meantime. Amazon.com's patents have prompted a Net boycott. NoWebPatents.org and noamazon.com (www.noamazon.com) are two such boycott headquarters. NoWebPatents.org claims its ranks amount to about 3,900 lost customers.

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