Since when does a computer maker need to license technology from a retailer like Amazon?
If the good folks at Apple Computer are sharp enough to create operating systems and write code that runs servers or lets filmmaking neophytes create flawless digital movies, surely they could hack creating a program that remembers the shipping addresses and credit card numbers of returning customers — in a snap. But on Monday Apple became the first company to license Amazon.com’s “1-click” patent — turning to the Net’s most celebrated retailer to augment its online ordering system.
Thanks to the “innovative” technology behind Amazon’s much-debated patent, “the easiest computer to use is now the easiest computer to buy,” enthuses the Apple Web site. But Apple, in its quest for ease, essentially may be making things that much more difficult for Net retailers.
By accepting the “1-click” patent as valid, Apple has for all practical purposes closed the debate about the patent’s very legitimacy. People like open-source publisher Tim O’Reilly can continue to crow (as they did this spring) about the unworthiness of the patent, just as they can continue to call for reforms at the U.S. Patent Office, which granted it. But all the noise they can make probably will do little to change the fate of Barnesandnoble.com, which was forced to disable its own easy-ordering system after Amazon.com sued the rival online bookseller, or other retailers who could presumably write a similar program of their own.
Monday’s deal gives credence where controversy used to reign, says Jamie Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology. “One of the problems you’ve got is that if someone has a patent that’s controversial, they can legitimize it through licensing agreements,” Love says of the Apple-Amazon deal. “It lets you go around and convince other companies to pay up. Busting patents is hard enough, but once deals are made it’s even harder.”
What’s more, those who decide that they have no choice but to follow in Apple’s path might not find the licensing negotiations all that easy, if only because Apple and Amazon have done their deal in the dark. Sure, the Apple press release describes the arrangement as a “cross-licensing” agreement, but it doesn’t say what Apple traded for the “1-click” license. No financial details are available and spokespeople for neither Apple nor Amazon would elaborate on the deal. So, the next company that wants to use “1-click” ordering on its site might have to pay significantly more — or less — than Apple to use the patent, without any idea of how its fees compare.
There is, of course, no reason to believe that Amazon would resort to unfair business practices, but without transparency the possibility is always there. That’s why the patent system needs to be fixed; indeed, that’s why the debate over the validity of Internet patents in general needs to continue.
In March, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos seemed to agree. In response to O’Reilly’s concerns, he even penned a letter that called for “fewer patents, of higher average quality, with shorter lifetimes.” But now, one has to wonder. Maybe, like Apple, he’s chosen ease over opposition.
More Related Stories
- What's 2013's "Gone Girl"? Here are this summer's best reads
- Fox executive behind "Does Someone Have to Go?" leaving the network
- Hillary Clinton memoir shows up on Amazon
- A brief history of Jennifer Weiner's literary fights
- First look: Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard shine in "The Immigrant”
- No women allowed: Summer music festivals are dudefests, again
- Vivica A. Fox tapes anti-gun PSA in front of poster for her movie
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Mariah Carey's rambling, cursing, dress-popping "Good Morning America" concert
- Fox's new reality TV show threatens regular people with unemployment
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Steamy lesbian-sex movie has Cannes abuzz
- Stop what you're doing and go watch "Borgen"
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- New York chef serves up eight-course meal around "Arrested Development" jokes
- HLN: Jodi Arias "pleading for her life" got us a ratings win!
- Michael Ian Black on Maron feud: He "considered me a poseur"
- Chekhov's story mirrors Russia's own
- Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina denied parole
- Joe Francis apologizes for calling jury "retarded"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11