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Trolling for Dollars

Earlier this month CIO Insight published an article on business method patents (the PTO Class 705), and close the article with the thinly veiled advice to "patent everything before someone else

Link: Intellectual Security: Patent Everything You Do, Before Someone Else Does


Fischburg is not alone in his quest to assert intellectual-property rights over a business method that became commonplace in the time it took the PTO to grant his patent. His was among 7,800 applications in 2000 that fell into the PTO's Class 705, which covers most business methods. Among those applications was another patent, awarded to Amazon.com just last month, for its method of encouraging users to write reviews of products they've bought.

On that same day, Amazon was also awarded a patent on its technique for ranking multiple-category search results, and another for its method for creating communities (called "purchase circles"), for which it filed patent applications in March 2003 and August 1999, respectively.

The company hasn't disclosed if it will seek to license these patents to other online retailers, search engines or Web portals, but the patent awards touched off immediate speculation that shopping portals such as Yahoo!, and search sites that attempt to build communities, will draw the ire of Amazon.com lawyers seeking to maintain a competitive advantage and augment revenues.

The PTO has issued thousands of patents like these in recent years, littering the business landscape with land mines for unsuspecting companies and their CIOs, who must build IT systems around them. Just last July, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Citibank, Discover Financial Services, T-Mobile and others were the latest to be sued for patent infringement by inventor Ronald Katz, who has reportedly collected nearly $1 billion in license fees for his call-center patents, which cover features such as interactive voice responses and automated prompts. (More than 100 companies have purchased licenses from Katz, including household names such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and IBM Corp.)

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