An ongoing patent feud between IBM and Amazon.com changed direction last week as the e-commerce giant countersued Big Blue for infringement and discredited their earlier accusations.
In late October, IBM filed two separate suits that accuse Amazon of infringing on patents coveringÂ topics ranging from advertising to hyperlink technology to a system for electronically orderingÂ items. The Seattle-based internet retailer denied infringing on five IBM patents and claimed thatÂ just the opposite situation was occurring: “IBM has chosen to infringe Amazon.com’s patentsÂ willfully and to obtain the commercial benefits of Amazon.com’s technology without authorisationÂ or compensation,” attorneys for the company wrote in their responses to IBM’s patent infringementÂ allegations. Amazon said IBM never should have earned the patents in question because they wereÂ not novel and non-obvious, and their specifications were not crafted in the “full, clear, concise
and exact terms” required by federal patent law. “IBM’s broad allegations of infringement amountÂ to a claim that IBM invented the internet,” Amazon’s lawyers wrote. “If IBM’s claims are believed,Â then not only must Amazon.com pay IBM, but everyone conducting electronic commerce over the worldÂ wide web (indeed, every website and potentially everyone who uses a web browser to surf the web)Â must pay IBM a toll for the right to do so.”
Amazon’s countersuit goes on to accuse IBM’s WebSphere application server and other informationÂ management services and products of infringing on five Amazon patents. Those patents cover systemsÂ related to search queries, personalised recommendations and identification of related products.Â
An IBM representative, Kendra Collins on Friday dismissed the new assertions and said the companyÂ was not about to drop its earlier suits. “The evidence in these two lawsuits will show Amazon’sÂ infringement of IBM’s leading-edge technology, plain and simple. Furthermore, Amazon’sÂ counterclaims “ring hollow” and represent nothing more than a transparent litigation ploy, because
Amazon never brought up concerns over those patents during four years of cross-licensingÂ discussions with IBM.Â
In court filings, IBM said it first approached Amazon in 2002 to seek licensing fees for use ofÂ its technology. IBM, which holds more than 40,000 patents worldwide, filed its pair of complaintsÂ after encountering what it characterised as “stonewalling” from Amazon.
Amazon in its latest response said it refused to pay licensing fees because it believed the IBMÂ patents in question were obtained through deceptive means and were thus invalid. They alsoÂ questioned why IBM waited until just after Amazon’s first profitable quarter to “demand money” forÂ alleged infringement when it had held the disputed patents since the mid-1990s. Amazon’s sought toÂ portray Big Blue as a patent speculator, or “troll”, suggesting that three of the patents at issueÂ were “not even developed at IBM but rather were bought from a now-defunct company for the apparentÂ purpose of threatening other companies with litigation like this to extract licensing payments.”
IBM’s Collins said AmazonÂs complaint “relies on caustic rhetoric rather than facts to distractÂ attention from the infringement of IBM’s patents”.
Amazon, which currently owns more than 60 US patents, has endured criticism over the years forÂ patenting features like the 1-Click checkout system that some have deemed too obvious to warrantÂ protection. At the same time, chief executive Jeff Bezos has been among the high-tech executivesÂ clamouring for changes to patent law such as limits on how long software and business methodÂ patents can be held.