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Amazon Wants Patent for All-You-Can-Eat Shipping 76

Posted by timothy
from the patent-system-still-broken dept.
theodp writes "USPTO documents released Thursday show that Amazon is seeking a patent covering subscription-based shipping, aka Amazon Prime. Among the seven listed inventors is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who has been singing the praises of Amazon Prime to Wall Street."
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Amazon Wants Patent for All-You-Can-Eat Shipping

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  • by mrxak (727974) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:43AM (#15839132)
    How can you patent a payment method? This doesn't make any sense.
    • In America you can sue anybody for anything. Same with patents, apparently.
    • by teflaime (738532) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:48AM (#15839169)
      So, it's almost guaranteed that they will grant the patent. Because a room full of cocker spaniels could exercise better judgement than the US Patent Office.
      • If I had mod points you'd get a +1 Funny... mainly for working cocker spaniels into the discussion...
      • How dare you insult the intelligence of a room full of cocker spaniels, you insensitive clod!
    • Because it's X, on the internet!
    • You can *apply* for a patent for anything. You can apply for a patent on your own style of walking if you wanted to. That does not mean the patent would be actually granted. What's curious is the fact that these companies even dare apply for patents on such obvious concepts.
      • You can apply for a patent on your own style of walking if you wanted to. That does not mean the patent would be actually granted.

        But with the current incompetancy of the USPTO, it's a safe bet!

      • Actually, if they didn't, someone else probably would come along and try. And if the other company DID manage to get a patent, Amazon would have a lawsuit on their hands.

        They can't just say that's what they are doing, though, or the patent wouldn't be granted.

        It's a sad, sad system.
        • Even if a patent was granted to another company, wouldn't Amazon still be safe under prior art?

          I thought patents were supposed to be for actual inventions. You know, those innovative ideas that change the way we live out our daily lives? Since when does a subscription service count as an innovative idea. Why doesn't amazon just apply for a patent for "a web-based ecommerce sevice where people click on shit, buy it with a credit card, and have it shipped to their house???" This is asinine.
      • Insert "Ministry of Silly Walks" reference here.

    • With stupid patents like this:

      I wouldn't be surprised at any new patents that come out these days. Let's all just hope for a complete overha

    • by PFI_Optix (936301) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:04AM (#15839290) Journal
      It's not a payment method, it's a subscription for flat-rate shipping. I find it quite creative, and very useful for those who buy a lot more books than I do. That said, it's not an invention, and shouldn't be protected by patent law.

      What we need is something like a short-term copyright/patent where a "minor innovation" is protected for a short period of time so that its creators can get some benefit from being the first to do it. 6-12 months would be sufficient for Amazon to establish this program as being "theirs" and make it obvious that anyone else who does it later is an imitator.
      • I like this idea (Score:3, Interesting)

        Having 'mini-patents' that only last a short period of time- say, 3 years- would be neat. In fact, all software patents and 'business method' patents should have this shorter limitation. 3 years is enough time for people to make a profit off software (if it isn't, they will probably never make a profit off it) and having limited protection might help companies feel safer about investing in new technology. Plus, it means that stupid stuff like this would only be an issue for 3 years, instead of 20 (and if
        • Having 'mini-patents' that only last a short period of time- say, 3 years- would be neat.

          But what is the point to these mini-patents? Someone comes up with an idea that is simply an increment to existing ideas, so they get a 3-year exclusivity window?

          The problem with the 'mini-patents' idea is that it opens the floodgates to abuse. The overseers of such a program (e.g. USPTO) would not put too much effort into evaluating the validity of a 'mini-patent' as the worst case is they block innovation for

          • Quick, patent these:

            "A system and apparatus for automating 'mini-patent' reviews."
            "A system and apparatus for awarding 'mini-patent'."
            "A system and apparatus for resolving disputes of 'mini-patents'."

            Then we can license it back to the USPTO who will have to pay a fee for every mini-patent they review!

            No more ads on slashdot!
          • Having different "types" of patents is problematic in any case. For example, the same patent might cover algorithms in software used in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Would that be considered a "software patent" or a "drug patent"? What happens when the patent office (inevitably) miscategorizes a patent?

            How about this: Make the patents themselves always last the same amount of time. In fact, get rid of the whole notion of patents "expiring". Instead, put different time limits on enforcement of the pat

      • by macdaddy (38372)
        I use it. I buy on average about $3k in books per year plus other misc stuff off of Amazon. If they can expand their grocery inventory a little bit I'll probably buy some non-perishables that way too. Imagine getting him from work to find a box of grocery items on your porch that are ready to go right into the cupboards? Forget about that trip to the grocery store and the hours spent plowing up and down each isle looking for what's on your list, trying to remember what was on the list that you left at h
        • That's great that you're a fan of Amazon Prime, but that really doesn't have anything to do with whether or not it's a valid patent. I used Amazon Prime when they offered me the free trial. It was pretty nice and actually resulted in me buying items from Amazon that I might normally have purchased somewhere else if I would have had to pay for shipping at Amazon (or wait the two weeks or so it takes a package to be delivered using their "Super Saver" shipping). However, whether or not it's a good product
      • where a "minor innovation" is protected for a short period of time so that its creators can get some benefit from being the first to do it. 6-12 months would be sufficient

        In a capitalist society we call this window of protection "first to market".

        Seriously, there's not need to create ANOTHER class of patents when the current system is in such obvious shambles. Such a "short-term" patent would also likely be abused heavily, with the patent owner adding small tweaks just before the expiration term to magi
      • It is a business idea, no invention, not even a business method patent.

        It is time for US citizens to take action and stop the USPTO madness.
      • What we need is something like a short-term copyright/patent where a "minor innovation" is protected for a short period of time so that its creators can get some benefit from being the first to do it. 6-12 months would be sufficient for Amazon to establish this program as being "theirs" and make it obvious that anyone else who does it later is an imitator.

        Nice idea in theory, but I think the trouble would be that such protections always seem to grow longer and more powerful over time. Just look at copyri
      • It's not a payment method, it's a subscription for flat-rate shipping. I find it quite creative, and very useful for those who buy a lot more books than I do. That said, it's not an invention, and shouldn't be protected by patent law.

        It's actually not new either, and even if it were an invention, shouldn't be protected by patent law. International Male [internationalmale.com] has been doing this for years with their "Advantage Club". By paying an anual membership fee, you get free shipping on all of your orders.

        This one is eve

      • "What we need is something like a short-term copyright/patent"

        We already have that. It's called the first mover advantage, and it has the huge benefit that it requires no administration or legal involvement at all.

        "6-12 months would be sufficient"

        The trouble, you see, is that nothing is ever sufficient. Granting protection from competition means the protected party simply becomes that much less efficient. Essentially, the theoretical reward simply gets eaten in increased costs instead; take a look at the st
  • It's really getting time that the USPTO was gutted and brought up to standards with the rest of the world
  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:59AM (#15839246) Homepage Journal
    Does anyone know if All-You-Can-Eat shipping means, All-You-Can-Eat shipping? After all, we wouldn't want this to occur, now would we?

    -----------

    Lionel Hutz: Now, Mrs. Simpson, tell the court in your own words what happened after you and your husband were ejected out of the restaurant.

    Marge: Well, we pretty much went straight home.

    Lionel Hutz: Mrs. Simpson, remember that you are under oath.

    Marge: We drove around until three in the morning looking for another open all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant.

    Lionel Hutz: And when you couldn't find one?

    Marge: [crying] We... went... fishing.

    Lionel Hutz: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do these sound like the actions of a man whose had ALL he could eat?
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:59AM (#15839249) Homepage Journal
    A clerk with the USPTO released the following response:

    "OK, Amazon, I get it! You like patents. You like them a lot. Everywhere I turn in my crappy office, it's "Amazon!" "Amazon!" "AMAZON!" Well screw it, you can just have all the goddamn patents! Yes, all of them,! They're all yours! Just LEAVE ME ALOOOOONE!!!"

    Said clerk followed up by darting into a shadowy corner of the file room, and crying for several hours.
    • I guess Amazon needs something to make money off of, since they sure as shit can't make any with their business operations. Or should I say, they certainly can't allow themselves to ever become profitable. Maybe if their latest web grocery thing fails, like most online grocery concepts, they will become the Rambus of the e-commerce world.
  • Cool! (Score:3, Funny)

    by famebait (450028) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:07AM (#15839308)
    I'm off to patent shipping exactly three items in the same parcel.
    • You're too late. That is covered under my patent of shipping n+1 things in the same parcel :-p
    • There is clearly prior art for shipping 3 items in one package. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any prior art for 'all-you-can-eat' shipping.
      • by Sleepy (4551)
        >Off the top of my head, I can't think of any prior art for 'all-you-can-eat' shipping

        There's plenty of prior art for an 'up front fee' (membership) that gets you a discount on further purchases. Costcos, BJ's Warehouse and Sams club folow this model.

        Yes, it's not SHIPPING, but that's Semantics. It's a customer fee to lower an undertermined number of recurring future fees. Even if you believe a BUSINESS PROCESS is a valid patent (and that is debatable), this example does not pass the non-obvious inventio
  • by Corvaith (538529) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:23AM (#15839469) Homepage
    I'm now on my second 'sample' of Prime. The first was given to my account, the second to my sibling's. In the course of those two, I have had such items as a 60-pound piece of exercise equipment shipped next-day to my home for $4 so it'd show up on my day off. I've ordered tons of books and had them shipped singly. And I have paid Amazon not a dime for the privilege, and wouldn't, ever.

    Why? Because once upon a time, you could get free shipping and have something a few days later. Then, Super Saver started taking longer... and longer... and longer. They'd wait a week to ship an item that was 'ships within 24 hours'. I suppose this probably happened around the time that Prime was taking shape. But then, and this is the kicker, lots of items on the Amazon site started showing up as longer ship times than they'd had before. 'Ships within 3-5 days' or something like that for an item that used to be 24 hours. As someone who has a Prime membership, free or not, I found that irritating. But then the worst part:

    They still often ship the items the next day. They just ship them by a method that will take longer to get there, even though you've used Prime for 'free second day shipping'. The excuse for this is that it 'still arrives within the delivery window', even though they're the ones who set the delivery window as being a week later for an in-stock product.

    I'd rather they patented this, to be honest, because I don't want any other company copying it. I don't want to pay for the people who buy 'all you can ship' packages and then ship a huge piece of furniture on it, when all I'm usually shipping is small items. But I think that, patent or not, this will eventually either start costing a lot more or vanish entirely. The delays are a symptom of a system that doesn't work. They're having to cut corners now to afford Prime. They can't do that forever, because people won't pay for prime if *everything* starts taking a week to arrive with 'second day' shipping.

    I don't want other companies doing this. I'm fine with paying for shipping if it's a reasonable price. Free is cool, too, because I know I'm still paying for it but it's packaged into the prices I'm paying, I don't have to add things to my cart to figure it out. I don't want to show up at other online sites where I shop to find that I suddenly have to shell out $80 to get things promptly because the 'free' shipping suddenly takes three times longer than it used to. It's not fair to the customers.
    • I don't want other companies doing this.

      I DO want other companies doing this. I want as many as possible to try their hand at their own version. Because, as in any other element of commerce, the competition will force them all to provide the best service they can to their customers at the best value, and whoever provides it the consumers will win better service as a result. I don't feel Amazon has any right to be the *only* one doing anything other than writing their own logo on their packages, and hopin

      • Except that this is a model which is unlikely to *ever* work unless they dupe a lot of customers who don't need it into buying it or place limits on its use, and both of those are not what I consider to be acceptable. The ones who don't ship much have to pay for the ones who ship tons. It's just like a buffet, only on a much larger and more expensive scale, and just like a buffet, they have to either screw over the small consumers or put major limits on the big ones in order to make it pay. The differenc
    • First of all, Prime may be free to you as a trial but normally it's around $70.

      Now while you may not be paying for it, many are. And while you may be shipping furniture, I'm mostly shipping small packages here and there.

      As long as the majority of people are going with normal buying habits Prime works in Amazon's favor, and can more than pay for the outliers or people who ship chairs or other large items. What it does help Amazon capture is semi-impulse buys where you know you want something in the next da
      • Most are, I'm sure. But that doesn't actually change anything. Because you don't get a good deal off of Prime unless you ship more than $80 worth of shipping. *They* don't get a good deal unless you ship less, unless the sheer volume which you spend with them is so much more now that their margin makes up your shipping costs and then some. That won't happen if all you're doing is shipping single books.

        Amazon's only able to hype this up now because it's a novelty. It's not likely to work in the long run
        • I'm not saying it can't last because it's free for some people. It just can't last, period, the way it's going right now. They're not taking in enough money in exchange for what they're giving out. The shipping costs have to come from somewhere.

          But again you are only hypothisising based on how you use it.

          It could be that many people are adding a few more items to an order - I know I do.

          And yes, shipping costs have to come from somewhere - which is either people who pay $80 and then never quite use it all, o
    • I have Amazon Prime, and while I agree with the parent's post on some levels, overall, I haven't had any of the problems he has had.

      There are only two complaints I have about Prime: one is that if you have an order of 2+ items, you can't have one show up overnight for their standard 3.99 fee and the other ship two day, you have to place the order seperately.

      The other complaint is that a lot of Amazon items that are more expensive to ship are no longer available on Amazon Prime. For example, I want to buy th
      • So, do I want them to patent Prime? Depends on how they word the patent. But overall, I don't see many other internet businesses having a diverse-enough business to have it work for them.

        How will they word it? As exclusively as possible, obviously. They don't want anyone else to muscle in on this and likely already have lawyers salivating over a few sites that come close enough to infringing to be used as test cases. They are not filing this patent for the good of humanity, they are trying to get a compet
      • For example, I want to buy the larger George Foreman Grill that is $15 cheaper on Amazon than in our local stores ($95 here, $80 on Amazon). Unfortunately, even though it ships from Amazon (not a 3rd party like some items) and I have Prime, they want $14 to ship it. So, for $1 less, I could get it in 2 weeks on Amazon, even though I've paid them $80 for the benefit of Prime.

        It probably depends on individual order history, but I've gotten such shipping fees waved as a Prime member, and I've even gotten th
    • once upon a time, you could get free shipping and have something a few days later. Then, Super Saver started taking longer... and longer... and longer.

      I'm sure escalating fuel prices have a hand in the corner-cutting you've seen and written about. I've noticed a lot of other online vendors no longer offer the free shipping options, and the regular shipping has crept upwards over the last year or so.

      Given Amazon's recent stock price woes, It's quote possible that your subject line is correct... Prime wi

  • by dleewo (80434) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:53AM (#15839712)
    I've paid for the Prime service and I actually love it. When I added up my shipping costs for stuff Ihad ordered in year before getting Prime, it was more that the prime fee.

    Now that I have it, I don't even bother to try and combine orders. I just order when I want. Last week, I bought 2 ink cartridges for my ink jet for about $6 each. I ordered one in the morning and the other in the evening.

    What Prime does though (and obviously the reason Amazon offers the service) is that when I want to order anything online, I always check Amazon first and in 95% of the cases, I order it from them.
    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @11:28AM (#15839984) Journal
      Sorry I don't have mod points, but this is exactly the value to Amazon.

      I do the same thing, and usually weigh the increased amazon cost against the pay-for-shipping, but cheaper unit-price vendor. It works, imo, because nobody else does it. If everybody had the option - say a Buy.com Prime membership - it would lose its value. I'm not going to pay three or four vendors $70/yr - it's only be aggragating a large percentage of my purchases in one place that makes it worthwhile. (I'm not sure there's a resonable logic in there, to be quite honest). Also, $3.99 for an overnight shipment of a reference book I really need or a gift I've forgotten to buy/send is a bargain compared to the usual shipping rates.
      • I do the same thing. Amazon with free 2nd day vs cheaper vendor with $$ ground. Amazon wins sometimes. I just wish I could exclude vendors that don't offer Amazon Prime.

        The greatest thing about it is that I can share it. Sure, I order from amazon a lot. But I share it with my father, my girlfriend and my boss. My boss has an amazon CC, always has the A9 discount and with my amazon prime he orders almost everything from amazon, down to condoms.
  • An acutely embarassing situation for their friends and relatives too, I would think, and if I were one of them I'd sue the USPTO for its part in facilitating this disgraceful and unnecessary exposure of these poor people to public ridicule. They need counselling or some other form of psychiatric help, not to have the symptoms of their illness recorded for posterity so that future generations can laugh and sneer at what they will no doubt see as seven lunatics or cretins who thought they were inventors.
  • My (insanely) brief understanding is that this is merely a ploy to get more cash flow through amazon up front without expenses - pay a "fee" up front to get allegedly cheap(er) shipping later. works for the buyer if they buy enough (like paying $25 at B&N for 10% discounts later), works for amazon up front in that they get cash without immediate expense which can sit in an interest bearing account.

    its really no different from any other "discount membership club" except the product you save on.

    worthy of
    • oh yeah, side effect of more cash in interest account is that it can bump up the stock value, which for now is all that's important at amazon.
    • >its really no different from any other "discount membership club" except the product you save on.

      Bingo! I posted exactly this sentiment in a post just moments ago. Amazon's threshhold for patentability is, 'has this scenario' been patented. A scenario is a situation, not an invention.

      Now, I bet you $2 either:
      * you get marked down redundant (even though you were first -- moderators don't REALLY check timestamps), OR
      * A testy moderator marks this post 'flamebait', for no reason other than noting the above
      • "'has this scenario' been patented"

        they're just playing by the rules the PTO has already established and publically stated (even back in the 90s when /. first started and patents was a hot-topic). the PTO's sole guideline for "prior art" is "is there a patent on it yet?", nothing more. they don't research the industry, they don't look for unpatented preexisting stuff, they just look at their patent application history and that's the sole decider.

        anything more and they defer to the courts to handle it. wh
    • Powells.com (online bookstore) has had the same thing (free shipping for upfront
      fee) since 2004.
  • Am I the only one whose first thought on reading the headline was "edible packing material"?

    I actually know someone who got a candy shipment as a gift, opened the box, and tried to eat those styrofoam packing peanuts.
  • by dzfoo (772245) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @03:06PM (#15841829)
    Is this like a Godzilla reference?

          -dZ.
  • Performance Bike [performancebike.com] has lower cost shipping and a 10% discount if you're a paid member, you can even sign up online. I can think of a half-dozen other sites I've seen that do the same.
  • The idea that this is patentable is retarded.

    That aside, Amazon Prime is ok except for one giant flaw, you can't search for items that are available via Prime. So if I want to grab, say an extension cable or something, I've got to wade through pages trying to find a seller that is eligable for Prime shipping.
  • This is just "free shipping for members" where the only perk of membership is free shipping. There's nothing at all novel about it. The patent is absurd. The idea of patenting a transaction is absurd. My only concern is that the PTO has shown the judgemet of a very small fungus, so they might actually allow this.

    If this continues, the cooperation required for international IP treaties to work will collaspe. What must other countries think of the US?

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