As one of the founding programmers at Amazon.com, I was very dismayed to learn of the company's legal attempts to enforce its 1-Click (TM) patent. Richard Stallman and many others have already done much to outline why the patent was a bad one to begin with, and why the legal enforcement is even worse. Amazon.com's early development relied on the use of tools that could not have been developed if other companies and individuals had taken the same approach to technological innovation that the company is now following. Tools like the GNU C and C++ compilers, Perl, the Unix mmap(2) call, the Berkeley DBM library: these are all software tools that contain far more innovative and significant ideas than Amazon.com's 1-Click (TM) system, and in turn depend upon ideas and innovations that came before them. If developers of these tools, or the researchers and software engineers who worked on the systems that led to their development, had sought and been awarded patents on the many marvellous computational methods that their tools embody, Amazon.com's early existence would have been a costlier and less efficient one.
When I agreed to join Amazon.com, I required several clauses in my contract detailing techniques that Amazon.com was prohibited from patenting or claiming as proprietary. These included the use of the `path info' component of a URL for state management, since at that time, cookies were not in wide use. I was almost certainly not the first person to have devised such a system, and in in truth, there was enough prior art that seeking such a clause was probably unnecessary. However, this was just one example of the way in which the company benefited enormously from the wealth of ideas circulating in the open and/or free software world of the middle 1990's. Both Amazon's patent application and now legal enforcement of the patent is a cynical and ungrateful use of an extremely obvious technology. 1-Click (TM) is a simple, logical and obvious use of the cookie system pioneered by Netscape and others. It did not deserve to be patented, and the patent does not deserve legal upholding, let alone enforcement.
I left Amazon.com quite a long time (relatively speaking) before the 1-Click system was developed. I do not know the motivations of those who sought the patent, nor how connected those people were to the software engineers who developed the technology. But I encourage others to join in calling upon Amazon.com to cease enforcement of its patent. I call upon the United States Patent Office to cease issuing software patents, or at the very least improve its standards for judging software patent applications. I also welcome the use of a boycott to reinforce these points. I wish we had a bigger stick, but we should do what we can.
Paul Barton-Davis <email@example.com>
firstname.lastname@example.org, November 1994-January 1996