this week won a broad patent on technology that lets customers schedule product deliveries to their doorsteps or mailboxes on a recurring basis, without needing to submit a new order every time. The patent filing says this approach will be particularly useful to overcome “the challenges presented by the delivery of perishable goods or other consumables.”

“For instance,” the filing explains, “a customer may request delivery of one bunch of bananas every week and two gallons of milk every two weeks.”

Gee, where did they come up with this one?

Amazon is already implementing this “innovation” in some form with the Subscribe & Save feature of its e-commerce portal, and more directly with the Automatic Delivery option for its Amazon Fresh grocery service in the Seattle region. But of course, the underlying concept dates back almost a century to the advent of the milkman.

The patent, granted on Feb. 5, describes a basic online system for scheduling and managing recurring deliveries of all sorts. It’s part of a trend in which Amazon takes an age-old concept, wraps it in a bit of technology, and gets the blessing of the patent office. Earlier this week, we reported on the company’s new patent on the resale and lending of used digital goods.

What’s next? Airbags in a smartphone? Oh wait, they already patented that, too.

Here’s a diagram from the latest patent showing the company’s vision for Milkman 2.0.

Image above left via Wikimedia Commons, milkman and delivery wagon circa 1925.

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  • Guest

    Todd, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. We’d like for you to report the news, not to whine about it. We’ll take care of the critique.

    • Todd Bishop

      Great, good to know — glad you’ve got my back on this.

      • guest

        Don’t sweat it, Todd. I thought it was both witty and appropriate. Took me back to my childhood for a moment there.

  • Double Standard

    Where are all the comments saying these guys are a joke, aren’t innovative, can’t compete, are hiding behind the legal system instead, the patent system is broken and patents need to be reformed right now, etc? You know, the ones who come out of the woodwork in droves every time GW mentions a seemingly questionable patent from Microsoft or IV?

    • Vroo (Bruce Leban)

      OK – here you go. This is a joke. It’s not innovative. The first claim is below. If you filter out all the patentese here’s what it says: a customer places a recurring order for an item and requests a delivery window and a delivery frequency. The computer figures out what to deliver periodically and the customer can change the first item on the list while the order is still pending. It’s clearly patentable because no one ever did that before computers were invented.

      Even as a bogus patent, it’s trivial to workaround. It only covers a delivery process where the customer can make changes to the first item on the list. My invention: when the customer requests a change, delete that item from the list and add a new item to the list representing the new request. I know I’m passing up potential millions here by not filing for a patent right away. I hereby dedicate any rights I have in this brilliant invention to the public interest.

      Judge for yourself:

      Claim 1. A computer-implemented method for providing recurring delivery of products, the method comprising performing instructions under the control of a computer system for: receiving at the computer system a designation of a delivery slot and a recurring delivery list comprising one or more list items, each of the one or more list items identifying a product, a quantity to deliver, and a frequency of delivery; periodically generating, by the computer system, an order having a date and time for delivery based on a next occurrence of the delivery slot, the order being generated in advance of the date and time for delivery such that the order has a period of time of pendency prior to the delivery; creating, by the computer system, one or more order items for the order based on a last delivery date and the frequency of delivery of each list item in the recurring delivery list; receiving at the computer system a change made to a first list item of the recurring delivery list during the period of time of pendency of the order; in response to receiving the change, determining, by the computer system, whether the order includes an order item corresponding to the first list item; in response to determining that the order includes an order item corresponding to the first list item, modifying, by the computer system, the order item corresponding to the first list item based on the change made to the first list item of the recurring delivery list; and providing, by the computer system, the order to an order fulfillment system capable of causing the one or more order items to be delivered substantially on the date and time for delivery.

      P.S. One thing I love about the patent office is how they let people stick in b.s. language that looks like it means something but really doesn’t. Example here: “generated in advance of the date and time for delivery such that the order has a period of time of pendency prior to the delivery”. Generating an order *after* the date and time of the delivery would require a time machine. And there is always a period of time in between any two events, although it does sound more sophisticated when you call it a “period of time of pendency” doesn’t it?

      • Pettifogger

        You don’ t understand patentese – forgivably so since claims language is abstruse indeed. The use of the “a first XXX” and “the first XXX” is common in claims language. But it means “the first XXX mentioned herein”.

        This claim speaks of “a first list item” – that simply means _any_ item in the list, but for the purpose of the claim language it is the first (and maybe only) one the claim identifies. The claim can then refer unambiguously to that same item as “_the_ first list item”. It does not mean the first item in the list.

        I’m not defending this patent, but your trivial workaround is no workaround.

        • Vroo (Bruce Leban)

          You didn’t read my workaround carefully enough. Granting that the word “first” has the interpretation you say (although I would certainly argue otherwise if I was being accused of infringement :-), the claim talks about modifying the item. My workaround is to DELETE the item and ADD a new one.

          Or here’s another workaround – (1) make a copy of the entire order except for the item that the user requested a change, (2) add the item with a requested change to the new order, and (3) delete the original order.

  • Guest

    Agree w Todd, this is so bogus.

  • Garrett

    If only the post office had nailed this down centuries ago. They could license it to Amazon so they would receive some money every time Amazon delivers something.

  • guest

    Look out, next they’re going to patent Datenight.

  • patentless

    There will come a time when the number of ridiculous patents outnumbers the useful/innovative/original patents and we’ll just have to dump the whole system. Who runs the patent office? I’m guessing a Ringling brother…

    • Michael Landauer

      We’ve already gone past that point.

  • Guest2

    Let’s not forget that a number of Internet shops selling supplements have had orders on a recurring delivery at a discount price for a decade at least.

  • here

    Todd do you know how to read patents? It doesn’t seem so from this article. Then why write about it?

  • Reuben

    The most offensive thing here is that they used Internet Explorer in their patent filing diagram. Really, Amazon? Really?

    • Anton Bar

      Ha! Great catch!


    Software patents ftw

  • Mauricio Guerrero

    That’s it, i’m going to patent humans, no one can be a human without paying me a rolaty, no sir lol. Without a licence, the penalty for being born is death, and your parents are to be fined dearly.

  • L Lam

    Seems like an evolution of Amazon Tote

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