The patent office notified Amazon last November that it had reason to reject Amazon's 1998 patent application, according to Kenichiro Natsumi, deputy director of the patent office's technology research division. In the same month, the agency sent a similar notification to Signature Financial Group concerning a 1992 application for a patent on its "hub and spoke" data processing system.
Each company has only a few days left to file either an opinion to contest the rejection, or an amendment to the patent application to make it qualify, Natsumi said. Amazon must file by Thursday and Signature by Monday 21 May. In either case, if the company does not respond in time, the patent application will be rejected. However, the companies are entitled to appeal.
In both cases, the patent office found "prior art", or evidence that others had the idea first. In the case of the "one-click" concept, the prior art consisted of an earlier Japanese patent application and a 1996 book, User Interface Design, by Alan Cooper.
"We decided that the technology could be easily invented from this prior art," Natsumi said in a phone interview on Monday.
Ideas similar to Signature's technology likewise were found in an earlier patent application and a book, Natsumi said.
Amazon's "one-click" system, patented in the US, enables repeat customers to place orders without re-entering personal information such as a credit card or address. Part of the patent covers the way Amazon stores its billing and shipping data. Amazon has faced criticism and legal challenges over the patent, which critics said could stifle innovation by other online merchants.
A representative of the European Commission also declared earlier this year that under a proposed revamp of Europe's patent law, Amazon's patent would not stand.
Signature Financial's technology, patented in the US in 1993 under the name Data Processing System for Hub and Spoke Financial Services Configuration, covers a computerised accounting system for managing a mutual fund investments operation. It has also come under legal attack in the US.
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