Amazon Granted Consumer Review Patents

Online retailing giant Amazon.com has been award three new patents which may shut down other sites collecting consumer reviews of products and services, or force them to pay Amazon a royalty for the privilege.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued three new patents to Amazon.com. One, U.S. Patent 6,963,848 covers methods and techniques to encourage customers to write reviews and submit ratings of items they’ve purchased, through optimal timing of reminders on accessed pages and via email.

Amazon.com’s customer reviews are a popular feature of the ecommerce site, and similar customer feedback and rating features have long been commonplace among major online retailers, some of whom offer features and implementations similar to Amazon.com’s. For instance, Yahoo Shopping sends follow-up notices to buyers after they’ve had a predetermined amount of time to evaluate their purchases. The patent covers including a link back to the purchased product in the reminder email message, and collecting reviews by filling out a Web-based form.

Amazon.com applied for consumer review patent in March, 2000. Amazon has not yet publicly commented on whether it plans to license the patent to other online retailers, or pursue ecommerce sites with consumer review features for infringement. Amazon.com initially sued Barnes and Noble for infringing on the company’s 1999 1-Click shopping patent, although Barnes and Noble won an appeal and the companies eventually settled. Nonetheless, the case set off alarms for other online retailers, and high-profile sellers like Apple Computer simply licensed the 1-Click patent rather than combat Amazon.com in court.

Two other patents just issued to Amazon.com cover purchase circles and a method of displaying products related to search results across a variety of product categories. U.S. Patent 6,963,867 covers displaying items related to a user’s search results. If a user searches for a musical instrument, the patent covers the technology which would display related products such as music instruction books, tutorial videos, and music CDs featuring the instrument.

U.S. Patent 6,963,850 covers Amazon.com’s “purchase circles,” which can be based on any sort of customer affiliation, including hobbies and employers. The patent covers methods of generating purchse circles and marketing to them, such as by enabling site users to see what items are popular among a particular company’s employees, or by showing which other people in a purchase circle have bought a particular product.

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