From outdated party decorations to that iTunes single you didn’t really mean to buy, Amazon has been behind every unintentional, one-click purchase on the internet. Until now.
Today, Amazon’s patent for “1-Click” ordering expires, ending its exclusive hold on one of the most contentious patents of the internet age. Amazon won the patent back in 1997 when the nascent company was still just an online book retailer. It allows returning shoppers, who have already entered billing and shipping info, to purchase items with just one click of a button.
Barnes & Noble, Amazon’s chief rival at the time, implemented similar technology on its website and the Seattle e-commerce company promptly sued the brick-and-mortar bookseller in 1999. That lawsuit was later settled in 2002.
It was the first of many challenges to the patent, which economist Ken Wilbur told NPR is “something that they probably never should have been able to patent.”
Rather than trying to go head-to-head with Amazon, Apple decided to license the technology in 2000 so customers could purchase products from the Apple Store with one click, which led to this historic exchange of press release statements.
“The Apple Store has been incredibly successful and now we’re taking it to the next level,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Licensing Amazon.com’s 1-Click patent and trademark will allow us to offer our customers an even easier and faster online buying experience.”
“Apple has a long history of innovation,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, “and we’re extremely happy to work with them.”
Other tech companies have followed Apple’s lead. But Amazon’s one-click patent has taken so much heat over the years because the company’s victory was won by expedient paperwork, not groundbreaking technology. The tools for one-click ordering already existed but Amazon had the good fortune, business sense (or likely a little of both) to patent it first.
“I’ve received several hundred e-mail messages on the subject of our 1-Click ordering patent,” wrote Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in an open letter back in 2000, which Quartz resurfaced last month. “Ninety-nine percent of them were polite and helpful. To the other one percent — thanks for the passion and color!”
In that letter, Bezos said Amazon would not turn the patent over to the public domain but implored the federal government to reduce the lifespan of business method and software patents from 17 years to three to five.
Now that Amazon’s patent is expiring, tech titans like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, are considering creating internet-wide one-click ordering between sites, according to NPR. Let this be a word of warning to all of those trigger-happy internet browsers out there: be careful what you click.