Amazon.com has lost an appeal to be granted a patent for its "one-click" ordering system, with the European Patent Office (EPO) ruling that the method was too obvious and not inventive.
Amazon had tried to patent the method within Europe before, but the EPO rejected the application in 2007.
The system allows customers to purchase goods with a single click. It allows Amazon's customers to use one button that retrieves information such as their payment method and address in order to make a purchase. It relies on Amazon placing a persistent cookie, or a small data file, within a customer's Web browser.
Amazon argued that one-click ordering increases the security of the system since customers do not have to re-enter sensitive data and that it also reduces the number of steps that would normally be involved in completing a purchase. But the EPO rejected those points.
"In view of the indexing function of cookies, the skilled person would have realized that any sensitive data traditionally requiring a login could be accessed by cookies," according to the EPO ruling. "The obvious trade-off between the two processes, namely security vs. simplicity, cannot establish an inventive technical contribution."
Amazon started using the one-click feature in September 1997, and it was granted a patent for it in the U.S. in 1999. Amazon.com then sued bookseller Barnes and Noble that same year for patent infringement. A preliminary court injunction was granted that mandated the bookseller stop using the system, but it was overturned in 2001. The two companies settled for undisclosed terms in 2002.
The patent was later re-examined by the U.S. patent office and was "allowed in essentially the same form," the EPO noted. But the EPO said the U.S. patent office does not exclude "business methods" for eligibility for a patent and said the office did not "go into the details of cookie technology and the skilled person's appreciation of it."
Amazon officials contacted in London did not have an immediate comment.
Send news tips and comments to [email protected]