Earlier Patent Could Potentially Play Role in Amazon Dispute

Does online bookseller Barnesandnoble.com Inc. have the smoking gun it needs to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by rival Amazon.com Inc. over alleged infringement on a controversial patent on one-click shopping technology?

That's the question currently facing both companies. Two weeks ago, a Web site that lets firms offer cash bounties for information to use in patent disputes disclosed that a $10,000 reward is being paid in return for so-called prior art that could potentially have a bearing on the case between Barnesandnoble.com and Seattle-based Amazon. The money will be split among three people who contributed patent research seen as pertinent to the case.

But it remains unclear whether the newly uncovered information, which is said to point to the possible existence of an earlier patent similar to the one held by Amazon, will actually be useful to New York-based Barnesandnoble.com when the infringement suit goes to trial later this year.

"This may play a role in the court case, or it may not," said Tim O'Reilly, founder of Sebastopol, Calif.-based computer book publisher O'Reilly & Associates Inc. and an investor in the patent-search Web site that was launched last fall by BountyQuest Corp.

O'Reilly personally put up the $10,000 reward for prior art related to the patent held by Amazon, which covers technology that lets online shoppers place multiple orders without having to re-enter their billing and shipping data. After the retailer was awarded the patent, O'Reilly and others argued that Amazon didn't invent the one-click process and said that it was merely the first company to register a patent on the technology.

Amazon received the patent in October 1999 and sued Barnesandnoble.com for alleged infringement two months later. A court injunction barring Barnesandnoble.com from using one-click shopping technology was issued, but that was overturned on appeal last month. A jury trial in the case is scheduled to start in September in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Officials at Barnesandnoble.com declined to respond to questions about the information released by Boston-based BountyQuest. But in a statement that was released as part of an announcement by BountyQuest, Ron Daignault, an attorney who represents New York-based Barnes & Noble Inc., said the bookseller and it online venture didn't have any of the prior art that was submitted to BountyQuest when their appeal of the injunction was being considered.

Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith said executives there remain "confident that the one-click patent is valid."

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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