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[FYI] An open letter from Jeff Bezos ...


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I've received several hundred e-mail messages on the subject of our 1-
Click ordering patent. Ninety-nine percent of them were polite and 
helpful. To the other one percent -- thanks for the passion and 

Before I go on, I'd like to thank Tim O'Reilly. Tim and I have had 
three long conversations about this issue, and they've been 
incredibly helpful to me as I've tried to clarify in my mind what is 
the right thing to do. I had previously known Tim as the publisher of 
the successful and excellent O'Reilly technical books. He off-
handedly proved his narrative and editing skills when he took what 
was our first rambling hour-long conversation and somehow made sense 
of it all in a posting on his site. My thinking on the topic of 
business method and software patents has been strongly influenced by 
Tim's observations, and especially his ability to ask excellent 
questions. I also read the first four hundred or so responses to 
Tim's summary of our conversation -- these too were helpful.  

Now, while we've gotten substantially less e-mail on this issue than 
we have over several other lightning-rod issues in the past, I've 
spent a lot more time thinking about this one. Why? Because the more 
I thought about it, the more important I came to realize this issue 
is. I now believe it's possible that the current rules governing 
business method and software patents could end up harming all of us --
 including Amazon.com and its many shareholders, the folks to whom I 
have a strong responsibility, not only ethical, but legal and 
fiduciary as well.  

Despite the call from many thoughtful folks for us to give up our 
patents unilaterally, I don't believe it would be right for us to do 
so. This is my belief even though the vast majority of our 
competitive advantage will continue to come not from patents, but 
from raising the bar on things like service, price, and selection -- 
and we will continue to raise that bar. We will also continue to be 
careful in how we use our patents. Unlike with trademark law, where 
you must continuously enforce your trademark or risk losing it, 
patent law allows you to enforce a patent on a case-by-case basis, 
only when there are important business reasons for doing so.  

I also strongly doubt whether our giving up our patents would really, 
in the end, provide much of a stepping stone to solving the bigger 

But I do think we can help. As a company with some high-profile 
software patents, we're in a credible position to call for meaningful 
(perhaps even radical) patent reform. In fact, we may be uniquely 
positioned to do this.  

Much (much, much, much) remains to be worked out, but here's an 
outline of what I have in mind:  

1. That the patent laws should recognize that business method and 
software patents are fundamentally different than other kinds of 

2. That business method and software patents should have a much 
shorter lifespan than the current 17 years -- I would propose 3 to 5 
years. This isn't like drug companies, which need long patent windows 
because of clinical testing, or like complicated physical processes, 
where you might have to tool up and build factories. Especially in 
the age of the Internet, a good software innovation can catch a lot 
of wind in 3 or 5 years.  

3. That when the law changes, this new lifespan should take effect 
retroactively so that we don't have to wait 17 years for the current 
patents to enter the public domain.  

4. That for business method and software patents there be a short 
(maybe 1 month?) public comment period before the patent number is 
issued. This would give the Internet community the opportunity to 
provide prior art references to tJhe patent examiners at a time when 
it could really help. (Thanks to my friend Brewster Kahle for this 

To this end, I've already contacted the offices of several Members of 
Congress from the committees with primary responsibility for patents 
to ask if they would be willing to meet with me on this issue. Since 
some of them have previously expressed an interest in similar issues, 
I have every expectation that at least some of them will want to talk 
about it. I've also invited Tim O'Reilly to attend any such meetings 
with me. Tim and I are also going to try to pull together some 
software industry leaders and other people with an interest in this 
issue and an ability to help.  

If done right -- and it could take 2 years or more -- we'll end up 
with a patent system that produces fewer patents (fewer people will 
bother to apply for 3 or 5 year patents, and fewer patents means less 
work for the overworked Patent and Trademark Office), fewer bad 
patents (because of the pre-issuance comment period), and even the 
good patents won't last longer than is necessary to give the 
innovator a reasonable return (at Internet speed, you don't need 17 

Bottom line: fewer patents, of higher average quality, with shorter 
lifetimes. Fewer, better, shorter. A short name might be "fast 

Many have noted, and I too would like to point out, that given the 
laws they operate under and the resources at their disposal, the 
Patent Office and examiners are doing a good job and it's unfair to 
criticize them.  

On a related issue, to further try to help with the prior art 
problem, I've also agreed to help fund a prior art database. This was 
Tim's idea, and I'm grateful for it. Tim is poking around to find the 
right people to run with that project.  

On an important meta-level, one thing to note is that this episode is 
a fascinating example of the new world, where companies can have 
conversations with their customers, and customers can have 
conversations with their companies. I've been saying for 4 years now 
that, online, the balance of power shifts away from the merchant and 
toward the customer. This is a good thing. If you haven't already, 
read the cluetrain manifesto. If you want the book, well...you can 
get it at several places online...  


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