Monday, November 14, 2005

AMAZON PUSHES BUSINESS-METHOD PATENTS INTO THE LIMELIGHT: The news headlines have been abuzz over the weekend when Internet News reported on Friday that received 3 e-commerce patents on user reviews and collaborative user networks. Jeff Bezos, who is also a founder of, is listed as an inventor in the '850 patent:

US Patent 6,963,848, filed March 2, 2000 titled "Methods and system of obtaining consumer reviews".

1. A method of encouraging customers to provide reviews of purchased items, the method comprising:

receiving over a network an order from a first customer for an item purchased from an electronic catalog;

estimating by what date the first customer will have at least initially evaluated the item based at least on the item type;

initiating an electronic transmission, based at least in part on the estimated date, to the first customer on or after the estimated date of a message requesting the first customer to provide a review of the item to thereby encourage the first customer to provide at least one review, wherein the message includes a link to an electronic review form and activation of the link by the first customer causes the review form to be presented to the first customer;

receiving the review from the first customer electronically via the review form;

individually presenting the first customer review in a group of reviews to a second customer interested in the item; and

based at least in part on the first customer's review, using a collaborative filtering process to automatically generate personalized recommendations for the first customer of other items.

US Patent 6,963,867, filed on March 31, 2003, titled "Search query processing to provide category-ranked presentation of search results" (assigned to A9):

1. A computer-implemented method of assisting users in locating items that are arranged within a database system by category, the method comprising:

monitoring user actions performed with respect to specific items in the database system to generate user activity data;

calculating item scores for specific items in the database system, wherein an item score for an item is dependent upon the user activity data associated with that item, and wherein calculating the item scores comprises automatically giving greater weight to user activity data associated with a most recent time period than to user activity data associated with earlier time periods;

receiving a search query specified by a user;

identifying, within each of multiple categories of the database system, items that are responsive to the search query ("responsive items");

for each of the multiple categories, calculating a respective category score based at least in-part on the item scores of responsive items in that category; and

determining an order in which to present the multiple categories to the user such that the order is dependent upon the category scores.

US Patent 6,963,850, filed on August 19, 1999, titled "Computer services for assisting users in locating and evaluating items in an electronic catalog based on actions performed by members of specific user communities":

1. A method of assisting users in selecting items from an electronic catalog of items, the catalog accessible to users of an online sales system that provides services for allowing users to purchase items from the catalog, the method comprising:

providing a database which contains information about a plurality of user communities, wherein different communities represent different subsets of users
of the sales system;

tracking, via computer, online purchases of items from the sales system by the users to generate purchase history data, and storing the purchase history data in a computer memory;

processing, via computer, at least the purchase history data to identify at least one item which, based on actions of both members and non-members of a selected community of said plurality of user communities, has a popularity level that is substantially greater within the selected community than outside the selected community; and

electronically notifying users that the at least one item is popular within
the selected community to assist users in selecting items from the electronic

The '850 and '848 generally cover “purchase circles,” that are arranged as community recommendation systems, where purchasers are encouraged to post reviews and ranking search results across multiple categories. Within those communities—which could be based on as little as the same domain name in the member’s email address or the city of their billing address—Amazon’s patent covers technology for generating lists of the most popular items and telling other community members about them.

According to Amazon, only the purchase circle technology is currently in use, said Amazon spokesperson Craig Berman. He would not comment on Amazon’s plans to pursue the patents.
Since thes patents were filed, reviews have risen to the forefront of many sites, with user recommendations playing a key part of the emerging local search and advertising market.

To see the fireworks over at Slashdot, click here.

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