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June 7 , 2011

Amazon attempts to patent one-click payments

Court case could limit freedom of competitors

If Amazon.ca succeeds in its attempt to patent its "one-click" purchasing technology in Canada , it could change the way patent law works in this country, says   Jeremy Morris , a researcher from the University of   Ottawa.

In a paper being presented at the 2011 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Fredericton,   New Brunswick, he argues that the eventual result of Amazon.ca's case is also going to influence who controls cultural information and practices in this country.

Amazon, the online bookseller, created a payment system that stores a purchaser's credit card information. The next time the purchaser visits the site, they can make purchases with a single click instead of having to add items to a shopping cart.

Amazon patented the so-called "one-click" system in the   United States   in 1997, and has been trying to do so in   Canada   for years, says Morris. The case is working its way through the courts and is expected to be heard by the Federal Court of Appeal within weeks. It could eventually make it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Morris explains that patents have traditionally been given on inventions (things) rather than on ways of doing things, but there is a growing tendency to want to patent business methods that change the way we interact with technology.   Canada   has so far resisted that trend.

But that resistance may be at an end.

"This is an issue that will affect how Canadian patent law works," says Morris, explaining that if Amazon.ca succeeds in the courts, it will be the first patent of a business method ever awarded in   Canada . Business method patents, says Morris, illustrate how certain actors use moments of technological change to secure economic and cultural advantages through law and regulation.

As an increasing variety of books, music, and films migrate into digital formats, business method patents will act as a quiet quest for control over information and cultural practices.

Big firms holding patents could make it more difficult for entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises - app developers, for example - to innovate. At the very least, they could force small business people to spend time and money fighting court cases instead of creating new products.

"This is an ideal moment to put these processes in the spotlight," says Morris. "Is it in society's interest to allow business method patents in   Canada ?"

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