Patent Ruled Obvious by EPO Board of Appeal Patent Ruled Obvious by EPO Board of Appeal

Nora Sleeth is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

The European Patent Office (EPO) Board of Appeal has ruled that Amazon’s one-click system is too obvious to patent.

Amazon’s attempts to patent its one-click technology have not been confined to Europe. The United States has already approved Amazon’s patent application and the case is currently under consideration in Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal. A summary of the June 21, 2011 Federal Court proceedings may be found here.  One of the main issues is whether the one-click approach is a business method and whether, as such, it is not patentable subject matter.

Amazon’s one-click system simplifies the online shopping process by storing a client identifier, known as a cookie, in the Internet user’s computer. The user can then purchase items with a single click and be immediately recognized by the server. The one-click business model thus removes any need for the user to enter additional information. Amazon’s application to patent this system was previously rejected by EPO in 2007. The Board of Appeal’s decision supported the prior reasoning.

The Board of Appeal agreed with the EPO’s original decision that Amazon’s patent application lacked an inventive step. The Board found that Amazon’s one-click system merely reduced the number of steps necessary to make an order and did not contribute anything new to the process. In addition, the Board found that anyone with an understanding of cookie technology could determine how to use cookies to add simplicity and security to the online shopping process. Amazon’s application of the technology is thus obvious to a skilled individual. An invention is described as something that satisfies a prolonged want, but Amazon’s use of cookies was an immediate response to new technology and not an invention responding to an existing want for something new.

The Board also rejected Amazon’s attempt to patent its time interval system, which allows customers to receive a single delivery for multiple orders. It was found that this approach was only a solution to an administrative problem and, although it involved technical components, such as a computer and a timer, it was not an invention.

It will be interesting to see how the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal approaches Amazon’s proposed patent when it renders its decision.