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Wired on Amazon.com Boycott 271

TGmentor wrote to let us know that Wired has an article about Richard Stallman's boycott of Amazon.com for its patent policies. The patent question is the recent victory that Amazon won over B&N for its 'one-click' shopping patent. Good work on the part of RMS [?] - we need to show companies that just because they can patent something, they don't need to.
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Wired on Amazon.com Boycott

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  • Uhhh....what banner ads?

    I don't see any banner ads on their site...
  • "Have we all blocked web ads from our browsers because Doubleclick has patented online advertising? Nope."

    Yes. Doubleclick is the first line of my Junkbuster blockfile.
  • My mistake.

    --
  • If the US patent office continues to hand out patents for trivial, obvious or non-original 'inventions', the US will have to face sooner or later a situation in which the Europeans and the Japanese cease to honour any US patents at all. We can't go on for ever offering reciprocal rights to a patent office which is neither competent nor responsible.

    In a recent letter to my Member of Parliament I listed ten US software patents covering techniques my company (and hundreds of others around the world) had been using before the patent was filed (yes, the Amazon one was among them). This situation just cannot continue. Either you have to get your patent office to behave sensibly or you will have to face a situation where you effectively cannot export.
  • The point that Bill Curry of Amazon makes is an important one. If 1-Click was such an obvious technology, as RMS claims, why is it that no major e-commerce site came up with it and implemented it before Amazon?

    And if this hypothetical other company X(company X) beat Amazon to the idea, then patented it and sued a competitor for infringement, would you then agree that the idea was obvious? Why? What's special about Amazon that makes any idea they are first to come up with and implement non-obvious?

    Someone has to be first, no matter how obvious the idea is. It can't be turtles all the way down.

  • By comparison, what does 1-click shopping entail? CGI? Web fill-out forms?

    Yes, I accept that it's all very "obvious" if you're a web-savvy slashdotter ... just as the correct stiffness and springiness of wire would have been "obvious" to professionals involved in linking-pieces-of-paper-together industry at the time of the paperclip's "invention".

    Amazon just happened to do it first

    And that's why the patent system is supposed to encourage innovation ... if you think of and do something first (and you patent it) then you're free to enjoy a temporary monopoly of it's use.

    Otherwise, where's the incentive to ever try something new? Naturally it's debatable whether the monopoly period for something as transient as software should really be as long as (what exactly?) 17 years? Even then, I'm sure that Amazon will be happy (or even legally obliged to?) grant licenses on the technology.

    My original point is simply that patents have always been tough on the guys who didn't get there first. Things are always "obvious" in restrospect to other experts in the relevant industry. Now whether prior art can be proved is quite another question.

    Regards, Ralph.

  • I believe the Open Source community needs to create a patent pool to protect itself the same way, this is the reason sites like www.openpatents.org where created.

    This is wrong! We must publish to establish prior art. Not patent. We are in a different game...

    ...richie

  • In addition to writing Amazon declaring your willingness to boycott them (and evangelize the boycott as well), consider offering them a suggestion as to an alternative approach. They would score geek points, plus make a "PR Event", if they dropped the suit (among suitable press hoopla), declared their support of OSS, and possibly even donated to EFF or some such organization. Of course, for this to work, the boycott itself would first have to become a widely-known event generating some bad press and investor questioning. Which it might ... everything starts small.
  • The internet is a great place to buy commodities. It's a great place to buy specialty items whose audience is way too small to support a store in your town. It is the worst place to buy books.

    A bricks-and-mortar bookstore is more than just a place where you exchange money for dead trees. It is a place to browse, a place where you can get good recommendations, a place to meet people, a place that hosts book-signings and book groups and maybe other meetings. As Amazon and the soulless book chains (BN, borders, etc.) kill that off, we are losing a precious resource.

    If you want to get some faraway friend a gift certificate for a book, go to booksense.com [booksense.com], the website for independent bookstores. (US site - sorry, I realize the world is bigger.)
  • I see it in a much simpler light.
    Amazon got a patent for a commonly used technology.
    They sued a competitor for using said technology.

    I run a website.
    I don't want and can't afford to get sued.

    I have to figure a large
    portion of /. sales lost will hurt.
    I know I did all my Christmas
    shoppin elsewhere. If my lost revenue
    doesn't have an impact maybe the
    gained revenue of their competitors
    will convince them to drop the suit.

    -Z
  • maybe i'll just pour hot grits down my pants and be done with it.

    Julia Strutters recomends boiling oil.

  • I agree with the spirit of the boycott, however, what is this going to prove? Amazon had yet to post any sort of profit and is still somehow in business.
  • Perhaps a solution would be to form a non-profit foundation which could solicit patents and funding from concerned individuals and foundations, and apply for broad, 'silly' patents on ideas itself. Armed with a library of such patents, we could make them available through a variety of general public licence which enabled companies to use them to do the obvious things they covered in exchange for avoiding irresponsible abuse of the patent system themselves. The foundation would also have teeth to pursue offenders by suing them for infringement of foundation patents and by funding and centralizing searches for prior art.
  • Once again, a company gets a patent, and hordes of Slashdotters jump up and down and scream "obvious" and "prior art". Aside from a few sane voices in the wilderness, most people do not understand the legal definition of these terms, so the discussion degenerates into name-calling and temper tantrums.

    Maybe the 1-click patent is bullshit; if it is, the court will rule that way (hint: the injunction against BN means that the judge thinks Amazon will prevail.) If not, don't whine about Amazon playing by the rules (indeed, the officers of Amazon are required, by fiduciary responsibility, to play by those rules and maximize shareholder value.) If you think the rules are flawed, the proper action is to write your congresscritter, not boycott the company.

  • they are used not to protect R&D budgets against parasites (the original intent of patents) but to stake a claim in a developing market in order to prevent anyone else from competing.

    Actually, no, you couldn't be more wrong. Patents are *precisely* intended to protect the inventor from anyone else competing: The following is a direct quote from "What is a patent?" at http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/doc/general/w hatis.htm :

    "The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in the United States or "importing" the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention." (Emphasis mine)

    That is why they have a definite 20-year term, after which they expire, opening the innovation up for anyone to commercialize. Now I'd argue that 17 years (the original term), while reasonable in the 18th century, is a too long for some of the faster-moving technology areas, but not all. (IMO, high-tech should be about 7 years.) But that opens the real can of worms as far as deciding which technology areas are "more equal" and worthy of protection than others.
  • Valid and fair?

    I can't believe I just read that. I came up with an equivalent system over ten years ago when in my foolish youth I was dreaming how you would buy things in a futuristic world.

    I was quite enamoured with my new Atari ST at the time, and I thought it would be quite neat if a shop came in a "window" with all the objects as "files". If you clicked on something it would appear on your doorstep the next day.

    Clearly I'm kicking myself for not patenting the idea there and then. But the thing is, even as a twelve year old I though it was a tad obvious....
  • Being first doesn't entitle you to be considered original.

    What is the substance of this patent? That the system can respond to a descriptor which uniquely identifies you and can be used to retrieve your shipping and billing information. We have had these for a long time: they are called account numbers.

    What is new about One Click? They implemented this transparently using cookies. That is the kind of thing that cookies were designed to do.
    Telemarketers have used essentially the same process for years: caller id (your phone number is the descriptor) gets piped into the database and your account appears on the operators screen when they pick up the call. Except that an operator takes your order, there is no difference.

    Being first past the finish line with an implementation does not mean an idea should belong to you exclusively. Amazon just trivially combined three ideas that already existed and were implemented: web based fill out forms, cookies, and automatic customer identification.


  • > Their duty (their job!) is to protect
    > shareholder value.

    So?
    What you are saying then is that
    Shareholder Value > Morality

    I emphaticaly disagree. Yes it *IS* important for
    them to raise or keep up sharholder value. That is
    their Job. However, that does not mean that this
    end justifies ANY means that do this.

    Just because it is perfectly legal for Nike to run
    sweat shops in third world countries, where people
    are paid slave wages and made to work under
    inhuman conditions, does not make doing it "OK",
    even if it does raise shareholder value.

    In my eyes, Amazon.com has done something to harm
    the industry. The patent system is broken and they
    are exercising it. Therefore, I will NOT buy a
    thing from them. I refuse to knowingly support any
    company that feels they have the right to do these
    sorts of things. As long as an option exists, I
    will go elsewhere.

    > I know it sucks, but the heat should be
    > primarily on the patent office for allowing such
    > patents.

    The system does need to be changed. However I do
    not feel that just because the USPTO allows this
    to go on, that companies that take advantage of it
    should get off scott free.
  • Have we all blocked web ads from our browsers because Doubleclick has patented online advertising? Nope. You have the right to boycott Amazon, however it is rather silly. Yes Amazon should have sued Barnes and Noble instead of patenting, but they shouldn't necessarily be punished for their lawyers' recommendations. There are worse companies than Amazon out there.
    Amazon patented one-click and sued Barnes and Nobles. Patents held just to be sure nobody else tries to stop them from using a technology - that I can deal with. That's why I love Xerox. If you're using a mouse, a GUI or a blinking cursor, you should too. But Amazon did the big no-no when they sued. This nearly $10,000 Amazon customer is now a B&N customer.
  • B&N is bad because as far as 'real world bookstores' go, B&N and Borders have an effective duopoly. They're very quickly destroying the independant bookseller due to the fact that they can do discounts that can't be matched by an independant. This despite the fact that it's the rare B&N or Borders employee who has a true love of books and could help you with a request like 'i just read If On A Winter's Night A Traveler and found the storytelling style intriguing. Can you recommend a work I'd probably like that's not by Italo Calvino?'. I use this request as an example because it was my last request and an independant bookstore.
  • by twit ( 60210 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @10:02AM (#1459531) Homepage
    As many people on slashdot seem to forget, software companies are companies first and producers of software second. It is regrettable that company such and such does not file a patent for everything patentable because this unwillingness endangers its survival as a company.

    A company can, as another poster has suggested, merely publish and leave patents unfiled. This is all well and good, but not really feasible for a company not founded in the public interest. As much as I'd like more companies to be in the public interest, I know that they are and will continue to be a minuscule proportion.

    For that matter, perhaps it's especially important for companies doing research (for example, the FSF) in the public interest to file patents - after all, lacking large bankrolls to pursue litigation, they have little to trade except their patent portfolio. Publishing without patenting does not diminish litigation or points of contention; it would merely make the lines shorter at the patent office. Litigitous companies would be no less litigitous; ones less so would remain less so.

    A patent itself is in the public interest. Companies are induced to publicize their advanced work with the reward of monopoly for a period of time. This is entirely consonant with, if not wholly inclusive of, the goals of free software. What we should fight is companies which seek to keep their research secret and out of the hands of the public. Trade secrets unpublished or unpatented are the real alternative to patents, not the trade or academic press.

    --
  • They *did* need to patent it so someone else wouldn't. What they *didn't* need to do was
    legally enforce it.
  • This will be tagged as flamebait/troll I'm sure but I just have to say that I am sick and tired of the "freedom" community pissing and moaning all the time about copyrights, trademarks, patents and the like.


    Linus has a Trademark yet he's still a God to you guys
    O'Riely books are copyrighted yet what they publish what is considered the gospel to this community
    Slashdot lambastes people for not GPL'ing their code but where's a *current* GPL'd slash engine?
    Transmeta has patents on embedded electronics and SOFTWARE that runs 'em yet they are the holy frickin grail.

    ENOUGH WITH THE DOUBLE STANDARDS!

    80% of you would not even have JOBS if it weren't for the USPTO and the US Copyright act ... how do you think companies would be able to make billions to pay you what you make if they could not ensure that they can make a profit from what they create without some fly-by nighter coming in, stealing it and reselling it below cost simply because they could?

    You guys can't see the forest for the trees and the undying need to complain makes you blinder each day.
  • I see that my previous post has been marked down to redundant.

    It is not. *THIS* is redundant.

    (-:


  • which is why the boycott is the correct response. Amazon's attempt to enforce this patent shows how far things have gone towards patents being a form of anti-competetive corporate welfare - they are used not to protect R&D budgets against parasites (the original intent of patents) but to stake a claim in a developing market in order to prevent anyone else from competing. No open market system can tolerate this.

    How this state of affairs can be in the interests of capitalism, the economy, software consumers, software programmers, web developers, the government, or the general public is beyond the ability of any rational being to explain or defend. The fact that most are either to ignorant or too amoral to care is no excuse.

    Corporate bootlickers and other sycophants may disagree, but I urge all who believe in the freedom to innovate *not* to buy the big lie, and not to buy Amazon until it becomes their *fiduciary duty* to rectify the situation by taking proper initiatives.


  • *groan*. now i'll be subjected to thousands of comments about the first line of a silly article.

    maybe i'll just pour hot grits down my pants and be done with it.
  • Do you reckon that there was "righteous fury" being generated at the time over the patent for the paperclip? I mean, anyone could have thought of using a bit of bent wire to hold several pieces of paper together. Perhaps many had been doing so but had never thought of patenting the idea. They waffled on to each other about "prior art".

    Or more likely they were blissfully ignorant of the matter, not living in the connected, rumour-mongering, righteous-fury-generating world that we inhabit today.

    Meanwhile, if you're looking for a good site to compare book, muics and movie prices then I can recommend DealPilot [dealpilot.com] (previously known as Acses.) It's especially good if you're outside USA as it calculates shipping costs & delays and gives the results in local currencies. Of course, since it's backed by Bertelsmann, the third largest media company in the world, then perhaps we should be boycotting them too, as well as every firm on the web.

    Disclaimer: I have no commercial or other link with DealPilot, blah, blah.

    Regards, Ralph.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why did you just quote the first poster and then rephrase his statement? He says the patent is to protect those who do research's just monetary return on that research, from those who would clone it (cheaply, because they didn't have to pay for the research). You are quite welcome to compete with a patent holder, if you can avoid thier patent (patents cover inventions, not ideas).

    The problem here is that the patent office's stated policy is that they simply allow any patent that is well written, and let the courts decide, since they have no one on staff who actually understands how obvious something like one click shopping really is.

    The patent office no longer exists to protect inventors, now in the age of cross-licensing agreements, it is simply another way for the entrenched large companies to collectively intimidate innovative upstarts from threatening their turf. Its much easier for large companies to compete with each other, than unpredicatable, inventive startups.
  • Even if the idea is obvious, somebody has to implement it first.

    I don't see how that gives anyone ownership over the original idea. I don't believe that anyone should own an idea anyway, but that's beside the point.

    This is Somewhat like the Russians claiming to be the only country with the "right" to put men in space.

  • Don't be a twit, who said anything about a conspiracy? It's a simple matter of Slashdot telling everyone to live the "right way," blasting companies like Corel when they make innocent mistakes, but when we take a look at Slashdot's own behavior, it fails to live up to the standards that it wants everyone else held to. This is just like Slashdot's refusal to release the latest Slash source, while always bitching about closed source companies.

    Activism's always so much easier when you don't have to do anything yourself, isn't it?

    Cheers,

  • I told my wife before Stallman suggested the boycott to not buy me books from amazon. It's not a big political statement, but I just don't want to reward them for their practices.
  • Yes. The US Patent Office. ;)
  • Exactly. Prior art can only help defend against patents the prior art happens to cover, whereas a patent portfolio can potentially defend against a much larger set of patents.

    I would ask that anyone who actually does own any software patents and who wants to help form such a portfolio, (as well as wanting to benefit from the existence of such a patent portfolio), to consider licensing their patents under some option of the Open Patent License.

    If you know someone who owns patents and would be interested in using them to help solve the problems (software) patents cause, please bring the subject up with them.

    And if you have any suggestions on the Open Patent License [openpatents.org] itself, there's a mailing list [openpatents.org] for discussing the license. I'd be happy to incorporate any improvements.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    That's exactly the problem we have here, and it's a detail many people overlook. If even a few companies patent everything in sight, then the rest have no choice but to follow suit. Not doing so is unilateral disarmament.

    If you really want to scare yourself, go check the US PTO's web site and search for patents awarded to Microsoft. They've received some in the UI area that are more absurd than anything I've seen discussed on /. to date.

  • I already have. I asked my wife not to shop there, and although she has no clue (nor wants one) about software patents, she agreed ...

    It's very important that we take a stand against software patents.

    BTW, there is also an effort going around to get anyone who is an administrator for any DNS server to add etoy.com in ... another great effort to be a part of ... if you are a DNS admin and want to know more please write me ...
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @06:52AM (#1459550)
    Nope. You don't need to patent it. All you have to do is publish the technology somewhere. In the sciences there is even a journal of anonymous submissions so you don't have to disclose the company/author just for that purpose.

    The patent MIGHT be good for cross-licensing, but that is about it.

  • It's beyond me why the /. crowd is so opposed to Amazon's patent. This is a *perfect* example of a patent doing exactly what patents are supposed to do: prevent those with deep pockets from simply stealing the work of those that developed an invention, method, or improvement. (Keep in mind that Amazon was a tiny startup challenging the entrenched giants with nothing but a few web servers when they came up with this idea! We should be cheering them on!)

    While it's true that some people try to abuse the patent system, PATENTS ARE A VERY, VERY, GOOD THING! They level the playing field and give the little guys a chance. Sure the big guys fund huge research labs to try to lock up the rights to improvements that are predictable (IBM is issued more patents by far than any other company), but the fundamental nature of important technology means that the most valuable ideas are inherently unpredictable (and therefore create a dislocation in the technology marketplace.) Keep in mind that patents are one of the very few effective constraints for very large, well-funded companies, especially if they are aggressive and willing to "play dirty". (Hmm, does this sound like any company you've heard of lately?)

    Kill patents, and you've ensured that the huge monolithic multinationals will control technology forever, and that no rivals can effectively emerge...

  • by Kagato ( 116051 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @08:28AM (#1459554)
    AT&T held the patent on the Transitor and licensed it for free. Nobody sued, and Sony made millions off pocket radios. This is simply a slap on the Open Source community. A lot of Amazon is based Open Source.
  • One key thing about most of these type of revolts is that if they are going to go anywhere, they need media attention. Since this has now been mentioned in Wired, I suspect we'll be seeing snippets of it in other publications (like CNN or Time soon enough), and then that will attract the needed attention to get Amazon's ball rolling.
  • Yup -- back when I was running Working Writers, Inc. (online) I designed a whole system for publishing books AFTER a bunch of readers (of initial chapters online) ordered them, at cost plus author's markup. I described this system, plus variations, and implemented the initial workings of it online. (A lawyer told me I should patent it. I said "Ideas can't be patented, only implementations." I guess that was a joke, huh?)

    But since I published the whole design in 1994 (even though the pages are currently off-line), this idea is still freely available to any person -- writer, publisher, whatever -- who wants to take advantage of it. And that's the way I want it!

    So if you ever see anyone trying to patent backwards-publishing, or do batch subscription publishing, whether or not online, or if anyone tries to patent displaying a library/bookshop, clicking to view shelves, clicking further to display of a specific book, let me know and we'll stop them (prior art).

    I think what we really need is to establish a center for posting "prior art" publications of ideas related to the Web or Internet or networking, etc.

  • by RGRistroph ( 86936 ) <rgristroph@gmail.com> on Monday December 20, 1999 @11:48AM (#1459576) Homepage
    Excellent clarification of what a fiduciary duty is.

    Essentially, the company's managers are making the argument that the shareholders gave them money while trusting they would behave like good businessmen.

    However, this argument is suspiciously convenient. Claiming an implied, trusting contract with the voiceless shareholders falls into the same catagory as protecting the children; it is merely a way to distract attention from one's own motives. This is made clear by the typical ease with which executives take actions in their own interest and against the shareholders.

    Fiduciary duty is not a bad thing, it is good. It is just a legal label for the duty of an executive to make reasonable efforts instead of just collecting his pay; it is saying that shareholders may trust in a basic level of performance from the people running the company. It is not the concept of fiduciary duty that I attack. I see fiduciary duty as a reasonable and good restriction on the powers of corporations.

    But certain exploitations of certain types of opportunities don't fall under fiduciary duty. It seems to me that by bantering the phrase around carelessly, we risk letting ourselves be the tools of a propaganda effort that wants to spread the idea that any potential money-making effort by a company is required, and those executives are excused from normal moral and legal obligations.

    A similar effort promoted the phrase "intellectual property", starting this whole thing. We need to kill the idea that there is anything but real property, made of atoms. Patents are just what the law defines them to be -- a restriction on the whole people in order to subsidize the reasearch efforts of a few, in order to encourage the advancement of the useful arts and sciences.

    In a similar way governments encourage other economic activities by restricting the activities of everyone. An early example is when the King of England gave monopolies on trade with colonies to certain companies, so that the companies would have incentive to settle and develope those lands. More recently, utilities were granted monopolies because it was presummed developing the massive infrastructures necessary would not be worth it unless you had a very long period of no competition. Our (the US Federal) government has the right to hand out monopolies on products and processes in order to encourage people to think of more of them. By using the phrase "intellectual property", we subtly spread the notion that you can "own" the exclusive right to manufacture something, just as you can "own" land.

    And now by careless use of the phrase "fiduciary responsibility" or "fiduciary duty" we are going to subtly insinuate that corporate executives have an obligation to take advantage of any weakness in society (such as the current weak patent office).

    Unless we post vigorously and often whenever the creeping mis-application of the phrase appears ;-)
  • Prior art is only useful for stopping companies gaining patents. If they already own patents on technology that is implemented in open-source, we need a portfolio with which to fight back.

    Hamish
  • I'm not crying for Barnes and Noble just yet.
    Of the two, at least Amazon is a bit more morally responsible (providing business to small-time local resellers/bookstores, etc.).

    Amazon is still the David to the Barnes and Nobles print publisher-cum-distributor Goliath.

    Jazilla.org - the Java Mozilla [sourceforge.net]
  • Unlike trademarks, where the strength of the mark is compromised unless vigorously enforced, patent assets can be enforced selectively without reducing the enforceability of the rights. "Jus Tertii" (the "Hey, they did it, why can't I" defense) is not available against a claim of patent infringement.

    Many patents are routinely infringed with impunity -- and the patent owner is free to decide whether the substantial costs of proceeding with an action outweigh the benefits. Sometimes, a patentee will put several defendants on notice and take them on one at a time. All of these are fine, unless the patentee seeks injunctive relief.

    The big issue, however, is that these internet stock market caps are (to some extent) based upon the false comfort given by patent ownership. If folks make the threat of a claim for infringement a joke by their own refusal to litigate, the stock may plummet to the extent its valuation was based on the "power" of the patents. This is a new factor in these matters, and not one to be sneezed at.

  • Recommendations? From who? The brain-dead zombies...

    I'm really sorry to hear that. In my experience, most people working at independent bookstores do so out of a love for books. If you're in a city, I'm sure that you could shop around and find a better one.

    I have no desire to meet people

    Sorry, I meant, "to set up meetings with friends". That way, if one of you is late you've got something fun to do.

    I'll take service.

    That's your choice. Fatbrain gives you service without the patents.
  • Hopefully, Amazon will get slapped with a court settlement (judges can be vicious if they sense a big corporation is abusing the system to the detriment of the court system's reputation and power -- let's hope Amazon has to pay court costs and punitive damages), or burned by the boycott, and we'll teach those shareholders to ask their directors to avoid these tactics.

    That's a pipe dream.

    The downside of bringing a meritless patent action would be an award of fees and court costs. There would be no award of punitive damages unless a counterclaim is brought in the case for which the same would be appropriate.

    However, after obtaining a preliminary injunction, there is virtually no chance even of an award of fees and costs on the ground that the lawsuit was an "exceptional case," unless informatin was willfully withheld during the P.I. hearings.
  • I know it sucks, but the heat should be primarily on the patent office for allowing such patents.

    Exactly. Note that my original post said "in the current legal and business climate". The solution is to change that climate. Boycotting Amazon won't do a damned thing in that regard.


    The only way out of this mess is to overhaul the patent system - but even that won't work immediately, as we'll have to wait for the current crop of patents to expire. They can't be invalidated by legislation, for that would be a government taking of private property without compensation and therefore unConstitutional.
    --

  • Priceline has a patent on their style of reverse auctions. They don't bother claiming it's a new form of reverse auction, or even that they were the first to do it via client-server computing. Their patent is on doing that kind of auction on the web.
  • And now by careless use of the phrase "fiduciary responsibility" or "fiduciary duty" we are going to subtly insinuate that corporate executives have an obligation to take advantage of any weakness in society (such as the current weak patent office).

    I have no intention of "subtly insinuating" anything. What I'm saying is that, in the current legal and business climate, companies that fail to take advantage of such weaknesses (though many would call them opportunities) will find themselves the target of shareholder suits that reach directly into directors' and officers' pockets. Taking the "moral" stand, as so many in this thread have argued should be done, could well impoverish those who make the businesses go. I don't think demanding they do so is any more right than others think patents are.


    By using the phrase "intellectual property", we subtly spread the notion that you can "own" the exclusive right to manufacture something, just as you can "own" land.

    This passes the duck test: you can buy and sell those rights, just as you can tangible property; therefore, those rights are also property. This is why the government can't just eliminate all patents, or all software patents, with the stroke of a pen, for to do so would run afoul of the taking without compensation clause of the Bill of Rights.
    --

  • by hatless ( 8275 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @12:17PM (#1459597)
    I'm not one to agree with most of Stallman's pronouncements. I'm a KDE-using, dual-booting, BSD-license-approving heathen.

    But this. This. I had to do something, and not just stop shopping at Amazon for a while. No, I've stopped shoiping at Amazon altogether, and paved over my account to make sure I don't again without real effort.

    I wrote to Amazon and asked them to deactivate my account permanently. After sending a list of recent purchases as identity verification, they've pulled the plug. And I've bought a couple thousand dollars worth of stuff there.. including gifts and personal and business purchases.

    Boycott, my ass. Burn your account. Ditto for Priceline, eBay and eToys. Tell them to do the right thing and set up a strawman case and file briefs with the Supreme Court in favor of knocking down these frivolous "everything old is patentable again on the web" patents.
  • While it may be their duty to protect their business model through the use of patents -- it is not their duty to use those patents to damage competition. Amazon is doing nothing but taking advantage of the system with so-called "innovative" patents.

    Unfortunately, the same system that granted them the patent may uphold it in court.
  • If it is the case that these patents cost more business then they generate it revenue

    Good luck. I sincerely doubt that the fraction of potential customers Amazon is running off by this action has even the slightest chance of being enough to outweigh the value of that patent, should it be upheld in court...and if they didn't think it would be upheld, they wouldn't have pursued it in the first place.
    --
  • We must publish to establish prior art. Not patent. We are in a different game...

    Like it or not, you are in the same game as long as you operate in the United States. You can't just opt out.

    Prior art is only useful to invalidate a patent if 1) it's really prior art for all of the important claims of a particular patent - something only a patent attorney is competent to render an opinion on, and 2) in court as part of a lawsuit to invalidate that patent. Got a few spare megabucks to go pick patent fights?
    --
  • by Jay Maynard ( 54798 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @06:54AM (#1459612) Homepage
    Once again, I have to bring up the concept of fiduciary duty. Not only does Amazon have a legal, enforceable duty to its shareholders to protect its corporate assets from misappropriation, they also have that same duty to maximize their value. Like it or not, in today's business and legal climate, Amazon had to not only patent a patentable invention, but also enforce its patent legally, or else their shareholders could have held the company and its directors personally liable for not doing so.
    --
  • If prior art exists and the patent officer ignores it, then did it really ever exist?

    Common misconseption here: It is *NOT* the patent officer's job to go looking for prior art. It is the applicant's duty to notify the patent office of any prior art that may bear on the subject of the patent, and the patent office proceeds on the assumption that the applicant has fulfilled that duty.

    If the applicant has failed to disclose relevant prior art to the patent office, then that may be grounds for revocation of the patent - but that only happens in court, as part of a lawsuit. Unless you're materially affected by a patent (read: liable for infringement) and have both lots of time and lots of money to fight such a suit, having all the prior art in the world doesn't do a damned thing.
    --
  • by HomerJ ( 11142 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @06:55AM (#1459618)
    Just a short question, when the next book review article comes along, is there going to still be the link to amazon.com to buy the book? Or is it going to be canged to a link to buy it from BN.com?
  • I'm finding it increasingly amazing the way that some people can obessess with one field of knowledge (e.g. law, economics, etc.) and think that this reasoning settles everything.

    Here we are, a large group of concerned people annoyed at the direction that a particular corporation is taking. We're part of their target market. We're the people they (ultimately) need to sell to. Does it make any sense that they can ignore the way we feel about what they're doing? How can it possible be that the value of "good will" is now zero?

    The argument "Amazon has a legal obligation to be greedy bastards" is nutty. Annoying the hell out of your customer base is not the way to make money. Some hypothetical investor law suit could almost certainly be shot down, if not this time, definitely in the future after we show them what happened to Amazon when they tried to flex their patent muscles.

    The idea that Amazon is too big to be shot down by the slashdot crowd is similarly nutty. If you believe this, you've got an exagerated idea about how big Amazon is, and how small slashdot is, and you have no clue about how much leverage a small dedicated group of people have in running a boycott. It wasn't that long ago that the Nike corporation was forced to backpeddle on it's overseas hiring practices because of pressure started by Global Exchange (a small non-profit with a few dozen employees). Recently they've turned their sites on the Gap Corporation for using what amounts to indentured servitude in a US territory, and the Gap's sales are now flat. The same people helped organize the protests of the WTO in Seattle (heard about this one, yes? Mass action organized by the internet... ha, what a silly idea, eh?).

    And yes, Amazon is currently running sales at below cost, so why should we try and reduce their sales? That doesn't make any economic sense does it? Probably not, but this is because the simple straight-forward economic reasoning is completely besides the point. Amazon's stock is a bubble waiting to be pricked. If investors lose confidence in them, they will be in the toliet in a second. Let's see, if you're holding a lot of Amazon stock, how would you feel about an organized consumer uprising calling for a boycott of Amazon? Will you say to yourself "Good, this will help Amazon save some money?" The thing is that it doesn't necessarily even *matter* how many people chose to support the boycott, just the fact that there are a lot of people talking about it is enough to put some pressure on Amazon. If they've got half a brain, they'll be looking for a way to gracefully back out of this one.

    One final point: Is this the right way to do it? Wouldn't it be better to implement a political solution, and restrain (or eliminate?) the patent office? Sure that would be better, it would also be a lot harder. In a winner-takes-all Democracy, if you can't get 51% behind you, you're a mere minority. In the market, if you get even ten percent behind you, you're a force to be reckoned with... proportional representation is a built-in feature.

  • Have we all blocked web ads from our browsers because Doubleclick has patented online advertising? Nope. You have the right to boycott Amazon, however it is rather silly. Yes Amazon should have sued Barnes and Noble instead of patenting, but they shouldn't necessarily be punished for their lawyers' recommendations. There are worse companies than Amazon out there.

  • No, you are not required to enforce your patent. You are thinking of Trademark, where you must enforce it or lose it.
    The only thing that can happen (of course, IANAL), is that by knowing about infringement and not enforcing it, if you come around later to enforce it, the damages you can claim would be severely limited.
    ie: you still have the patent, you could make them stop using it, or possibly pay licensing fees, but if you watched them grow for 20 years in the first place, you couldn't claim 20 years of damages...
  • Amazon gets a lot of hits through the associates program. these are smaller targets. Let the webmasters at these sites know what you think. Suggest they opt out of Amazons program, and switch to B&N's program. I can suggest 3 Amazon associates. Linux online,Be.com, and SLASHDOT.(Are you reading this Rob?). Check out the Amazon site for more.
  • Here, I'll fix it.

    s/desired effect/desired effect on the internet/ There! :)

  • by Jerky McNaughty ( 1391 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @06:58AM (#1459628)
    Amazon.com censors some comments which are posted. For example, one book Amazon.com was selling was priced at $34 despite the fact that the list price is $24.95. I've tried twice to post a comment to tell people to try Fatbrain.com instead since Amazon.com's price was above the list price. My comments have never appeared.

    RMS says that authors of books should post a comment regarding boycotting Amazon.com. Certainly, if my comment didn't make it past their censors, the authors' comments wouldn't either!
  • It's not the fact that they patented it, it's the fact that they are enforcing it.
    Many companies patent solely to protect themselves, even if they think it's not something that deserves patenting. Usually, it may not hold up in court if they try to sue, but it will prevent anyone else from doing the same to them.

    I think it's rediculous that amazon should say they spent 'thousands of hours' building their "one-click".
    It's not unique in any way.

  • Simply because you can make money for your shareholders doesn't give you a duty to do so. If Amazon had the oportunity to steal and get away with it, and the company did not, the shareholders have no claim. If Amazon has the oportunity to abuse the legal system or patent system for profit, that opportunity doesn't translate into a duty to do so.

    This is indeed the crux of the argument. Amazon's duty is to do everything legally permissible to protect and increase the value of its assets to its shareholders. The issue boils down to a simple question: Is what Amazon did abuse of the patent and legal system? (For the sake of discussion, I'll grant the point that abusing the patent system is indeed illegal...but that's something else that would have to be proven.)

    It's going to be very hard to win this argument in court, which is the only place it matters. To win requires proving that not only is what Amazon did abuse of the patent system - and that the patent office granted the patent is a very strong argument that it is not - but that they knew it was such an abuse and they did it anyway. I don't see that happening.
    --
  • AT&T held the patent on the Transitor and licensed it for free.

    Sure they did...back in the 50s, when the corporate, business, and legal climate was radically different from what it is today. Your example is completely irrelevant.


    This is simply a slap on the Open Source community. A lot of Amazon is based Open Source.

    Freedom - something the Open Source community (and I) espouse as a high ideal - necessarily includes the freedom to do things that piss you off.
    --

  • This boycott can only truly be successful if it hurts Amazon's pocketbook. The problem is that Amazon doesn't make any money! Even if they lost some revenue from this boycott, they're still a large company with corporate/investment backing. A boycott won't be successful on it's own, unless it has some pressure from other sides as well. I suggest letter-writing and phone calls. I have no info on who to talk to, but if someone does, please post it.

    "Where do you get off thinking any OS is superior to DOS?"
  • You say "I'm not subtly insinuating anything . . ." and I agree that you are communicating openly. You merely want to say that Amazon would be punished in the market, maybe in the courts via a shareholder complaint, for not being this aggressive. I also think this is the case. I thin the chances are low, but the officers of Amazon would have been wrong not to at least think about them.

    I just don't want people to feel that there is some shareholder obligation that forces companies to do illegal things if they can get away with them. I aggree that Amazon may have been in a catch 22 in this case -- punished by patent courts on one hand, punished by the stock market and maybe a shareholder's suit on the other. I think our legal system does many contradictory things and it may well punish the officers of Amazon in both cases. You are right to point out the foolishness of insisting that they take the "moral" stand -- the best systems generally work by making it in your own best interest to do the right thing, and suggesting the answer to a broken patent office is to count on everyday people to "do the right thing" and loose money is a recipe for a russian-style collapse.

    If people carelessly use the phrase "fiduciary duty" in the place of "monetary incentive" it will be a bad thing. I have to admit your original post is not a misuse of the word; I should not have implied that *your* use was misplaced. I guess the only complaint I can make in with that post is the weak one that you didn't explain enough about the term.

    I agree that they had to patent a patentable invention; it's just that if they have an unpatentable invention, but they can get away with patenting it, they are caught in a dilemma. Once they have the patent, it looks really suspicious to the stock holders if they don't attempt to enforce it. Especially in this age, where investors want strong aggressive businesses. Your remark to Kagato (the "AT&T held the patent on the Transitor" guy) about the 1950's being different is on the money. (If you ever read a bio of Sony and how he delt with the transistor patent issue, it's pretty interesting).

    As for the duck test, all that can be bought and sold is not property. The government can destroy many types of rights, which are bought and sold, with out compensation; obviously the property which the Bill of Rights protects from unfair taking must be something more special than just that which can be bought and sold.

    For example, what about the time limit on the patents ? By setting it at only 21 years, isn't the government "taking" the "property" that is the exclusive right to manufacture web pages which sell books with a single click, for all eternity ?

    No, because the 21 year exclusive priviledge is not a property. It's just an incentive handed out by the government, like a farm subsidy. I believe that in the past tobacco farmers have bought and sold the subsidy rights to grow certain numbers of acres of tobacco at a guaranteed price. If the congress cancelled that program, it wouldn't be "taking" anything any more than cancelling a welfare handout would be taking something.

    (By the way, I pleasantly surprised when I accidently clicked on your homepage to see that you work for Compaq in my hometown of Tomball -- I'm moving back there sometime soon.)
  • I think /. is in the process of converting Amazon links to fatbrain links.
  • by Hemos ( 2 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @07:01AM (#1459662) Homepage Journal
    Some of the old stuff is still to Amazon, because it's difficult to change 300+ reviews. But we're going to be working with fatbrain.com. B&N is just as bad, in their own special way.
  • Unless the loss of business through the boycott exceeds the loss of income if they had not enforced the patent.

    Since Amazon runs at a loss, it might well be more lucrative to them to generate income from patents than by selling books. Higher margins.
  • There was widespread use of the concept of one click shopping before the patent was applied for.

    Ah, but was there widespread use of the exact methods of one-click shopping they claimed in the patent application? This is a nontrivial question to answer, and there is legal precedent for the concept that only a patent attorney is competent to have an opinion on the subject.

    If Amazon applied for the patent in good faith, then they did not commit fraud.
    --
  • I'm boycotting amazon.com, sure. I wrote them a letter and told them why (and received Canned Reply for my efforts). But what amazon is doing is a symptom of the problem - they are not the problem itself. My goal in boycotting them is to get them to realize what it is they're doing and turn around and make a point about software patents.

    Obviously what is needed is some serious reform at the USPTO level. They're giving out software patents left and right for things that are obvious, things where there's tons of prior art, etc etc. How do we get them to stop doing this? I know that the intent of patents is to encourage innovation, but I think it's obvious (and this case has been made hundreds of times) that patents do *not* help software development, mainly because of the way the USPTO goes about issuing them.

    So, I *will* boycott amazon.com, and I think it will help if more people do so (and tell amazon why), but I don't think it's a good idea to stop there if you want to see software patent reforms.
  • Hemos says, "we need to show companies that just because they can patent something, they don't need to."

    This makes me wonder which "we" he's talking about, since Slashdot still carries 1) An Amazon.com slashbox, and 2) links to buy books from Amazon in the reviews section.

    Put up or shut up, guys.

    Cheers,
    ZicoKnows@hotmail.com

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 20, 1999 @07:04AM (#1459675)
    Since they _LOSE_ money on each sale, not buying from them _HELPS_ Amazon.

    However, since losing _LESS_ money goes against the official internet business plan, the stock price will probably plummet.

    What to do, what to do . . .
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @07:04AM (#1459676)
    This boycott is doomed to failure. There are several reasons for this: One, too big of a target - it's a rule of thumb in protesting that you pick something big enough to matter and small enough to win (emphasis mine). Amazon pumps out thousands of books each day. Do we honestly believe 150k slashdotters will have a noticable impact? We might contribute 1k books... total... for christmas. Also, did you tell your parents/friends not to shop at Amazon? Will you return the book if you get it for xmas? Strike one.

    The second problem is that amazon is a high publicity "can-do-no-wrong" media darling. A boycott will be taken in a negative light... and while it will generate lots of publicity, it will hurt the credibility of the GNU project if/when the boycott fails. Strike two.

    The last problem is simply one of practicality - geeks are not a political bunch. Infact, many pride themselves on avoiding politics. And to quote another well-known member of the community, trying to get this to work would be like "trying to herd cats". What's worse - many geeks already believe (perhaps rightly so) that the USPO is a complete joke and that simply ignoring patents like these would be easier. Eventually somebody else will correct this broken system now, right? Strike three.

  • You will need to patent what you consider a "unique" idea. It provides protection from your commerical competition from filing against you.

    A patent costs (low end) $4000.
    Lawyers run $125 and up an hour.
    How many hours to just FILE a protest to a patent? (hint $4000 is cheap protection.)

    From a business standpoint, it is cheaper to file and have the patent office throw it out/get it accepted, than it is to get sued when someone ELSE files and gets accepted your idea.

    Now, Amazon didn't need to beat B&N over the head with the patent, but it is a business weapon they can use to hobble B&N, and they have used it. Do not believe for a moment, if B&N had this patent, they would have not done the same to Amazon. Or Apple to anyone selling/offering web-sales software (buy webobjects, get one-click shopping). Same for Microsoft. Or IBM.

    The problem here is the patent office. They issued a patent for something very questionable. If YOU want to work on getting this patent thrown out, you need to:
    1) find out if B&N or someone is protesting this patent.
    2) Help that entity that is protesting the patent. Supply prior art, if you have it.
  • It seems that the links have been to fatbrain.com [fatbrain.com] lately anyway, so it's not so much of an issue. Of course, they're running NT with Active Server Pages, so there goes Geek Idealisim ;-)
  • Patents are fine, especially on processes. However, they should only patent the METHOD and not the IDEA. One click shopping is an idea you can come up with at any time, and any dipstick can implement it. This is not a patentable idea. The method and plan to execute it is. We could have had 1 click shopping as a pipe dream in the sixties, before there were "clicks"! It is certainly not unique. Many companies tack on the notion of "on the internet" or "in electronic form" and the USTPO buys it hook line and big fat sinker.

    Take flooz for example. The formula:

    1) real world gift certificate
    2) Internet medium
    3) restricted channel (56 sales sites)
    4) "patent pending"

    If they are awarded this, I'd eat my hat if I owned one. Putting something on a server on the net is pointless, and just a distribution medium. I just doesn't seem that great to me.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Monday December 20, 1999 @07:07AM (#1459683) Homepage Journal
    Richard Stallman did -not- invent Linux, but he -did- invent a great many components which made Linux possible to write and develop, and -did- invent the licence which made the kind of development we've seen with Linux a reality.

    Depending on how you interpret what was written (the article did NOT say he invented the Linux kernel), that statement is as true or as false as you choose to think of it.

    As for Amazon, this is proof that software patents are neither desirable nor useful. In a way, it's kind-of sad that Amazon didn't patent a whole load more. Why? Because this is clearly a case of politicians, corporations and the general public perceiving it as "not bad enough", "not their problem" and "only affecting others".

    IMHO, software patents will remain until some company makes it so odious for so many people that it's no longer possible to pass it off as an irrelevent foible.

    Sad as it is, people in general don't give a damn until something affects them directly, and personally. Some remote super-giant company that can afford to pay the bill isn't going to earn any sympathy with anyone.

  • by MAXOMENOS ( 9802 ) <maxomaiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 20, 1999 @07:10AM (#1459690) Homepage

    I agree completely that Amazon.Com's attempt to enforce this b*s* patent on (essentially) electronic commerce is nonsense. And I agree that we need to take action. I suggest that a boycott might not be the right answer.

    Consider this: Amazon.com has yet to turn a profit. In fact, Amazon.com probably loses money on every book they sell. If the goal of a boycott is to harm the business economically in order to adjust their behavior, then the logical course of action would be to buy lots and lots of books from Amazon, all at once, and bankrupt the company. I therefore propose that we set up a "Boycott Amazon" website and set that website up as a partner of Amazon.com.

    This reverse-boycott has other benefits to it. For one, we would increase the workload on Amazon's shipping infrastructure, potentially slowing other, less costly orders, from ever shipping. For another, if people buy books from the "Boycott Amazon" website (with the little link to Amazon), then each purchase will only hurt Amazon's pocket more by reducing the revenue of each sale by 5%. These proceeds can then go (for example) to the Free Software Foundation.

    Comments?


    The Kulturwehrmacht [onelist.com]
  • by twit ( 60210 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @07:11AM (#1459692) Homepage
    I believe that if you have a patent you're required to enforce it and protect it against violations and other infringements. Otherwise, you may be deemed to have surrendered or otherwise nullified it. That doesn't mean that they couldn't have licensed it to Barnes and Noble for a token sum, of course, but I fail to see why they'd want to.

    A point made by John Walker (founder of Autodesk) in his Autodesk File [fourmilab.ch] (North American mirror [fourmilab.to]) is that software companies are regrettably low on patents when compared to industrial or hardware companies of similar size. These patents are used defensively, in a cross-licensing scheme, if a violation is made.

    Consider this example: company A uses technology possibly patented by company B. Company B sues. The lawyers will work out a deal where company B is licensed technologies of equal value from company A's patent portfolio - it may go all the way to a full exchange of licenses for all marketable technologies from both companies. Intel and Digital did this relatively recently.

    The problem is that if company A doesn't have a strong or viable patent portfolio, it cannot protect itself against patent infringement suits. It may be required to actually shell out cash to settle a suit, which is against the interest of the shareholders (and may lead to the sacking of the management, besides).

    While Bezos may be the largest single shareholder, he isn't the only one, and his share will decrease over time. Not to mention that he probably has no desire to lose his shirt in the short term, either.





    --
  • by for(;;); ( 21766 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @07:13AM (#1459695)
    What you abolitionists don't understand is that we Southern plantation owners have a legal, enforceable duty to our families and estates to protect our plantations from exploitation by wage-greedy workers. Furthermore, that same duty compels us to maximize the output and value of our estates. Like it or not, in today's business and legal climate, my fellow plantation owners and I must not only keep negro slaves, but also fight to protect that right, lest the entire economy of the South collapse and we be held liable.

    --J. Random Plantation Owner, 1855

  • In general, boycotts are fairly useless in and of themselves. The goal of any boycott is to try and remove enough demand from the product that the person (or people) selling the product will either stop selling it or try to resolve the issues of the boycott.

    There are a few boycotts that have succeeded, but generally those were a part of a much larger political movement where the boycott was used mainly as a Public Relations vehicle to express outrage at a particular idea.

    For example, I doubt the boycott of beef purchases by Vegans against the Texas Cattleman's Association is going to be effective, but at least it is consistant with their politcal philosphy.

    I salute Richard Stallman in at least being consistant, and I would encourage people to make purchases consistant with their political, ethical, religious, and moral beliefs. In a larger picture, on a broad political movement, protesting against Amazon will be effective in the sense that he is bringing awareness to the issues of intellectual property that affects the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.
  • Why does someone invariably bring up this lame excuse? "I waz juzt vollowing orderz! The shareholders made me do it!" Bull! They would never consider it if that schmuck at Amazon hadn't tried it and gotten away with it. Besides, what about their duty to protect the company from expensive litigation? Or the bad publicity this has caused?
  • I believe that if you have a patent you're required to enforce it and protect it against violations and other infringements.

    *Sigh*...

    This is TRADEMARKS. TRADEMARKS are the only IP that need active enforcement. Patents don't need to be enforced; see the LZW patent of GIFs if you need an example.
  • What the heck were you thinking when you said, "we need to show
    companies that just because they can patent something, they don't need to. "

    If they can patent something, they absolutely DO need to. It's up to the Patent office to not allow patents of ridiculous things. It's up to the companies to patent everything they can to be as competitive as possible.

    Somewhere there needs to be a balance, and the way to control the balance is at the "server" (patent) level and not the "user" (amazon?) level.

    Our company holds what I think is a completely unenforcable patent, so I will tell you what it is. We made some charting software, an add-in for Excel. The patent was on part of the actual process of making charts! Specifically, charts that display annualized data alongside monthly data, e.g. 3 yearly bars followed by 12 monthly bars. There was some other errata and bs in the patent, but that was the gist of it.

    Pretty pathetic, eh? Of course we filed for a patent. We wanted to keep anyone else from displaying their charts in that format, since that was one of our major selling points (as well as having an Altman's Z-score chart built right in :-).

    IMHO, we never should have received that patent. Likewise, if there was actually a market for the type of charting software we made then we probably would have actually tried to enforce the stupid thing.

    --
  • Some of us have blocked ads from more than just doubleclick.net. They are polluting my downstream bandwidth. Whether they patented web ads or not they are a bunch of marketing shills -- more "whores at the capitalist gangbang" (to quote Bill Hicks) and I'd send a frigging anti-tank rocket back up the line at them if it were possible.

    It's amazing what a 30-line (Perl) filtering proxy server can do to banner ads. If you do it like I do it the images maintain their sizes but the content comes from /dev/null -- so the pages render properly. If you really want to allow the click-throughs to bring you to the advertising site that only takes 7 more lines (at least in my implementation).

    And, by the way, I have never bought the fallacious argument these marketfucks propagate -- that without the revenue from banner ads the 'Net would collapse, etc., etc., etc. Give me a break. The majority of the useful sites in my bookmarks list (which is > 1500 links) don't use banner ads.

  • by RGRistroph ( 86936 ) <rgristroph@gmail.com> on Monday December 20, 1999 @07:27AM (#1459722) Homepage
    Simply because you can make money for your shareholders doesn't give you a duty to do so. If Amazon had the oportunity to steal and get away with it, and the company did not, the shareholders have no claim. If Amazon has the oportunity to abuse the legal system or patent system for profit, that opportunity doesn't translate into a duty to do so.

    The fiduciary duty is limited to those reasonable business activities which a normal person would expect to be part of the business.

    Perhaps someone can post a link to one of the online legal dictionaries on this term ?

    There are other problems with invoking the fiduciary responsibilty argument. One of them is that many companies so obviously ignore their shareholder obligations when convenient -- look at some of the huge bonuses given to CEOs of failing companies, or some of the more famous merger deals. In general, I would say that courts believe that fiduciary responsibility will be protected in most cases by the market -- people will sell the stock. It has to be a greivous case, with secret dealings and maybe a non-publicly traded company, before judges will hand down an award.

    Lastly, I'd like to remind everyone of the Archer-Daniels-Midland case -- someone could argue that those executives had a fiduciary duty to conspire with the Japanese to fix prices, but they went to jail for that, not for failing shareholder obligation.

    Hopefully, Amazon will get slapped with a court settlement (judges can be vicious if they sense a big corporation is abusing the system to the detriment of the court system's reputation and power -- let's hope Amazon has to pay court costs and punitive damages), or burned by the boycott, and we'll teach those shareholders to ask their directors to avoid these tactics.

    The problem with this boycott, is that Amazon is one of these internet dot-coms that don't seem to need any revenue. The way to really hurt them is to convience all your day-trading friends to short them.

  • The implication of both your post and the original post is that we should just suck it up, buy from Amazon and write letters to the patent office. Assuming that's the subtext of your note... Our primary goal should be to vote with our cash. In this case not buying crap from Amazon tells them we're unhappy with their decision. Who gives a shit what they "need" to do. They did not do what we wanted them to and we have plenty of other options (in addition to fatbrain bookpool.com is good and cheap). Let the shareholders and the corporate goons worry about their end, we just need to worry about ours (i.e. wield the stick and don't stop till it hurts).
  • It seems that the links have been to fatbrain.com lately anyway, so it's not so much of an issue. Of course, they're running NT with Active Server Pages, so there goes Geek Idealism

    Not necessarily. When you buy a book, comment on their service. Take the opportunity to comment on how much Apache on Unix :-) would improve the efficiency of their service, and how much it would make you want to come back again. (let them figure out what the best and cheapest version of Unix is for themselves) Let alone saving them piles of money on licences.

    We should them know politely that we care about exactly which server they use, that we're aware of it. They'll get the idea pretty quickly. Everybody is trying to repackage themselves as open-source friendly, and we just have to remind them exactly how they could go about doing that.
  • I'm not inclined to take this action by Amazon as a general indicator that they'll actively protect all their patents against all competition. Here's why: Barnesandnoble.com have imitated Amazon at every step of their evolution. After a lousy original design, the B&N.com site was redesigned in their v2 to be a complete Amazon rip-off in look and feel. [I haven't visited lately so this may have changed in the last year.] Amazon may feel that B&N have been imitating their success long enough, riding on the coattails of Amazon's trial and error process to make e-commerce work; this patent was a good chance to push back a bit. Time will tell whether Amazon is going to enforce it against others as well.

    Another thought: while B&N are allied with Microsoft, Amazon widely deploys open-source software on their site. Amazon may well be a future source of code contributions to those projects; it may in the community's interests to court Amazon.
  • Actually, you're completely backwards.

    The book sales lose money; the banner ads make money.

    More visits equals more banner ad revenue.

    Just say "no" to Amazon. Block their site in your firewall or web browser so you don't accidentally go there. :-)
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @08:03AM (#1459755) Homepage Journal
    Well, if its broad enough, it can succeed, if only because the officers of the corporation get sick of picking up the paper and hearing somebody call them a pack of baby-killers (e.g. the Nestle boycott).

    To be effective, the boycott must be visible to others -- not just you and the company, not just you the company and the company's other customers -- but to the press and the public at large. There needs to be a ribbon you can put on your web site saying "We support the Amazon Boycott".

  • Several posters have said that they can't support the boycott because Amazon *was* the first to offer one-click shopping, so the idea cannot be that obvious, at least not back when they started. The Amazon spokesdroid basically said the same.

    Now, have you ever tried to write to Amazon with a protest about that lawsuit? I did, and got back a (presumably standard) reply, saying that they must protect the effort invested into implementation of one-click shopping. Here's your answer: the IDEA is trivial, the IMPLEMENTATION is not. Even Amazon in their canned reply does not bother to claim that the idea is non-obvious. But implementations cannot be patented. Algorithms can be patented, but the actual code cannot. So, unless B&N have actually stolen Amazon's code, the boycott looks totally justified to me - they ARE trying to protect an obvious idea, the only reason they were first and only one for a while is that it may have been hard to implement.

  • Im sorry, but the concept of fiduciary duty does not extend to willfully creating fraudulent patents. Nor does it extend to illegal practices of other kinds, no matter how lucruative they may be.

    You are quite correct. Now, prove that Amazon's patent was both fraudulent and intended to be so. Be prepared to counter the argument that the patent office did not so find when issuing the patent.
    --
  • OK, let me see if I can explain what I think the author was getting at for you.

    First, this looks like satire through exaduration. The author is exposing Amazon's lame excuse for it's audatious actions for what they are by using the same excuse for a far more heinous action. Amazon's use of the patent system amounts to judicail coersion and extortion. It's not as bad as murder or enslavement, but the fact that it makes money for shareholders does not make Amazon correct.

    Second, Amazon's usurpation of common practices does violate everyone's fair use of that practice. While this may not be as ugly as race bassed civil rights violations, it is not much better. Race based snubs bother sugroups. Actions like this affect everyone. People who allow themselves to be violated will be enslaved by someone.

  • "This boycott is doomed to failure"

    It depends on what you think the goal is. Did anyone say that this was intended to hurt their bottom line?

    It may:

    a) help B&N in court battle because so many people complained about the obviousness of their "innovative" patent

    b) keep *some* revenue out or Amazon's pockets

    "Eventually somebody else will correct this broken system now, right"

    Yep, if eventually given enough complaints -- the system will change. Doing nothing accomplishes nothing. Doing something *may* accomplish a goal. Looking for an immediate and broad effect is short-sighted.

    Now, we may wish for a greater effect to come of this -- but really, doing nothing doesn't help a problem.
  • by dublin ( 31215 ) on Monday December 20, 1999 @09:35AM (#1459770) Homepage
    Let's get one thing clear that many folks seem to misunderstand:

    The Latin root for the word "fiduciary" (fidere, I think) means "to trust". It has nothing to do with money, although it's often used in the context of "trusting" someone to respect the monetary interests of the trusting party.

    ADM had NO fiduciary responsibilty to its stockholders to fix prices with the Japanese. On the contrary, ADM blatantly VIOLATED its fiduciary responsibility by acting illegally!

    On the other hand, Amazon's action was not only legal, but the proper course of action. while I wouldn't go so far as to say companies are *obligated* to pursue patents, it's also clear that neglecting or intentionally declining to file a patent applicaiton on an innovation that materially affects entry barriers in a company's marketplace could open the company up to "legal problems".

    A fiduciary responsibility is a *trust* responsibility NOT a *monetary* responsibility!

  • Once again, I have to bring up the concept of fiduciary duty.

    That's all the more reason to do everything legally possable to bring down ANY company that plays the obvious software patent game like Amazon is. If it can be shown that playing such games will damage profits, then NOT playing the game becomes fiduciary duty.

    By the same token, NOT playing the game should be rewarded by higher profits, in particular, by winning the customers who are boycotting the competition.

    Eventually simple customer boycott may not be enough. Software engineers may need to vote with their feet. Remember, every company that plays these games with software patents makes it harder for you to do your job without you or your employer being sued into oblivion. If it becomes known that playing patent games will cost you the very people who do the inventing, that will also make doing the right thing a fiduciary duty. It's not like engineers have to quit on the spot, just line up a new position, and give the reason in the notice. (And yes, I HAVE threatened to leave ON THE SPOT, only the issue was spamming, and no spam was sent).

  • Consider this example: company A uses technology possibly patented by company B. Company B sues. The lawyers will work out a deal where company B is licensed technologies of equal value from company A's patent portfolio - it may go all the way to a full exchange of licenses for all marketable technologies from both companies. Intel and Digital did this relatively recently.

    But company A could also point out prior art, if it exists, and invalidate the patent. And instead of filing patents company A could publish its ideas for everyone to use.

    The really sad part is that the lawyers of both companies make money from the litigation, no matter which way it goes (are you the suer or sue-ee) and there is little incentive to change the system.

    Pardon me if my cynicism is showing...

    ...richie

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