Amazon.com sued Barnes & Noble.com in 1999, alleging infringement of its business method patent by allowing its customers to make repeat purchases in a similar method to that described in the patent. Barnes & Noble.com argued that the patent should be declared invalid. Patents for business methods are impossible to obtain in most countries, but valid in the US.
Critics of Amazon.com’s patent have long argued that it gives the company an unfair monopoly on what amounts to little more than an efficient means of using standard technology. The risk, they point out, is that other web sites must make their shopping systems deliberately less efficient to avoid infringement, which in effect stifles e-commerce.
Currently, Barnes & Noble.com customers require a minimum of two clicks of the mouse to make a purchase. The company changed its single-click system to comply with a court injunction obtained against it by Amazon.com. Later, Barnes & Noble.com won a repeal of that injunction pending the resolution of the court case, but it did not return to the single-click system.
Many observers of the case will be disappointed that the companies have settled, rather than going to court and obtaining judicial guidance on what is an important and highly controversial area of e-commerce law.
In a joint statement, the companies said that the terms of the settlement are confidential.