An Open Letter From Jeff Bezos on Patents

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From: Adam Rifkin -4K (
Date: Fri Mar 10 2000 - 02:02:52 PST

Gotta hand it to Jeff Bezos, he sure knows how to talk the talk...

Darn if he doesn't sound like Jerry Maguire at the beginning of the
movie when he's losing it:
> Bottom line: fewer patents, of higher average quality, with shorter
> lifetimes. Fewer, better, shorter. A short name might be "fast patents."

Here's the whole letter...

> I've received several hundred e-mail messages on the subject of our
> 1-Click ordering patent. Ninety-nine percent of them were polite and
> helpful. To the other one percent -- thanks for the passion and color!
> Before I go on, I'd like to thank Tim O'Reilly. Tim and I have had three
> long conversations about this issue, and they've been incredibly helpful
> to me as I've tried to clarify in my mind what is the right thing to do.
> I had previously known Tim as the publisher of the successful and
> excellent O'Reilly technical books. He off-handedly proved his narrative
> and editing skills when he took what was our first rambling hour-long
> conversation and somehow made sense of it all in a posting on his site.
> My thinking on the topic of business method and software patents has
> been strongly influenced by Tim's observations, and especially his
> ability to ask excellent questions. I also read the first four hundred
> or so responses to Tim's summary of our conversation -- these too were
> helpful.
> Now, while we've gotten substantially less e-mail on this issue than we
> have over several other lightning-rod issues in the past, I've spent a
> lot more time thinking about this one. Why? Because the more I thought
> about it, the more important I came to realize this issue is. I now
> believe it's possible that the current rules governing business method
> and software patents could end up harming all of us -- including
> and its many shareholders, the folks to whom I have a strong
> responsibility, not only ethical, but legal and fiduciary as well.
> Despite the call from many thoughtful folks for us to give up our
> patents unilaterally, I don't believe it would be right for us to do so.
> This is my belief even though the vast majority of our competitive
> advantage will continue to come not from patents, but from raising the
> bar on things like service, price, and selection -- and we will continue
> to raise that bar. We will also continue to be careful in how we use our
> patents. Unlike with trademark law, where you must continuously enforce
> your trademark or risk losing it, patent law allows you to enforce a
> patent on a case-by-case basis, only when there are important business
> reasons for doing so.
> I also strongly doubt whether our giving up our patents would really, in
> the end, provide much of a stepping stone to solving the bigger problem.
> But I do think we can help. As a company with some high-profile software
> patents, we're in a credible position to call for meaningful (perhaps
> even radical) patent reform. In fact, we may be uniquely positioned to
> do this.
> Much (much, much, much) remains to be worked out, but here's an outline
> of what I have in mind:
> 1. That the patent laws should recognize that business method and
> software patents are fundamentally different than other kinds of
> patents.
> 2. That business method and software patents should have a much shorter
> lifespan than the current 17 years -- I would propose 3 to 5 years. This
> isn't like drug companies, which need long patent windows because of
> clinical testing, or like complicated physical processes, where you
> might have to tool up and build factories. Especially in the age of the
> Internet, a good software innovation can catch a lot of wind in 3 or 5
> years.
> 3. That when the law changes, this new lifespan should take effect
> retroactively so that we don't have to wait 17 years for the current
> patents to enter the public domain.
> 4. That for business method and software patents there be a short (maybe
> 1 month?) public comment period before the patent number is issued. This
> would give the Internet community the opportunity to provide prior art
> references to the patent examiners at a time when it could really help.
> (Thanks to my friend Brewster Kahle for this suggestion.)
> To this end, I've already contacted the offices of several Members of
> Congress from the committees with primary responsibility for patents to
> ask if they would be willing to meet with me on this issue. Since some
> of them have previously expressed an interest in similar issues, I have
> every expectation that at least some of them will want to talk about it.
> I've also invited Tim O'Reilly to attend any such meetings with me. Tim
> and I are also going to try to pull together some software industry
> leaders and other people with an interest in this issue and an ability
> to help.
> If done right -- and it could take 2 years or more -- we'll end up with
> a patent system that produces fewer patents (fewer people will bother to
> apply for 3 or 5 year patents, and fewer patents means less work for the
> overworked Patent and Trademark Office), fewer bad patents (because of
> the pre-issuance comment period), and even the good patents won't last
> longer than is necessary to give the innovator a reasonable return (at
> Internet speed, you don't need 17 years).
> Bottom line: fewer patents, of higher average quality, with shorter
> lifetimes. Fewer, better, shorter. A short name might be "fast patents."
> Many have noted, and I too would like to point out, that given the laws
> they operate under and the resources at their disposal, the Patent
> Office and examiners are doing a good job and it's unfair to criticize
> them.
> On a related issue, to further try to help with the prior art problem,
> I've also agreed to help fund a prior art database. This was Tim's idea,
> and I'm grateful for it. Tim is poking around to find the right people
> to run with that project.
> On an important meta-level, one thing to note is that this episode is a
> fascinating example of the new world, where companies can have
> conversations with their customers, and customers can have conversations
> with their companies. I've been saying for 4 years now that, online, the
> balance of power shifts away from the merchant and toward the customer.
> This is a good thing. If you haven't already, read the cluetrain
> manifesto. If you want the book, can get it at several places
> online...
> Jeff
> Tell us what you think. How would you like to re-invent the patent
> system? Share your views:


There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. -- The Matrix

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