U.S. Patent No.
Method and apparatus for subscription-based shipping
Assignee: Amazon Technologies, Inc
1. A computer-implemented method, comprising:
an e-commerce site implemented on one or more computer devices receiving over a network input identifying a user;
based on the input identifying the user, determining whether the user is a current subscriber to a subscription-based shipping program that provides a plurality of subscriber shipping options for each of at least some items offered on the e-commerce site for the duration of a subscription, wherein the plurality of subscriber shipping options are provided only to users of the e-commerce site that are currently subscribed to the subscription-based shipping program, and wherein the plurality of subscriber shipping options do not depend on a quantity of an item ordered;
receiving over the network input specifying at least one of said at least some items that the user wants to order; and
in response to determining that the user is a current subscriber to the subscription-based shipping program, generating an order for the specified at least one item directing the at least one item to be shipped to a location specified by the subscribed user according to one of the plurality of subscriber shipping options instead of a non-subscriber shipping option;
wherein at least one of the plurality of subscriber shipping options provides shipping for the at least some items to the subscribed user for the duration of the subscription at no additional cost to the subscribed user beyond an initial cost of the subscription.
Commentary: The prosecution histories of these patents are fairly unremarkable -- just one similar non-final rejection for each based on double-patenting and a 103 rejection (based on Overstock.com) that was easily overcome with a single round of amendment and argument (including a "one-click" argument for some of the other claims).
And of course, there is no mention of 101 or Bilski by the examiner. Should there have been? The recitation of the "computer devices" seems to be tossed in there casually -- it's not referred to again in the claim. (In fact, it was added with the claim amendment.) And the "network" limitation may not add much, either. I've seen -- and received -- plenty of 101 rejections for claims of a similar extra-solution activity or not particular ilk. In other words, take away that computer and network, and the method can be performed with no functional loss by hand. (And can the generic "items" serve as Bilski-satisfying particular apparati?)
Then again, I've argued for claims like these when it can be made clear that the method requires the use of a computer to achieve some true gain in functional capability, i.e., not merely a question of speeding up the method, but actually enabling it, where performing it manually simply could not be done. Not sure that's the case here, though.
Another note, and one you probably won't see on other blogs, pertains to Jeff Bezos being listed as an inventor here. That's not so newsworthy, as Bezos is now an inventor on 38 Amazon patents. Interestingly, on 14 of the first 16 of those patents, he is the first listed inventor; on the next 22, he's listed first on just six. On today's three, he's listed last.
I often tell clients that there is absolutely no legal implication to the order in which inventors are listed on a patent's face, but that they should think about their company's internal politics when deciding who to list first. So far, I've only had one instance where we actually had to change the order after it was filed (which is easy to do before the Declaration is filed, but very difficult to do after. See MPEP 605.04(f)). Typically, most clients will try to list first the lead inventor who, in their view, most deserves the recognition. But just as some graduate students will always be listed second to their advisers on journal articles (not in my field, where alphabetical order ruled supreme), I'm sure that there are numerous patents out there listing a company executive first for what could be a minimally material contribution to the conception of the invention.
Assuming that Amazon acts normally in this regard, it would make sense that a company founder like Bezos would be involved heavily in the early inventions, while his role might tail off later as the company evolved. On several of those first patents he is the sole inventor, in fact.
And just for comparison, Steve Jobs is listed as an inventor on 23 Apple utility patents, and is listed first on only 8 of them. (But Jobs is also an inventor of 138 design patents.)