Amazon.com Awarded Affiliate Program Patent -- On 22-Feb-00, the United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded Amazon.com a patent (applied for in Jun-97) covering the concept of affiliate programs for merchant Web sites. (Affiliate programs pay the owners of other Web sites for referring business to the merchant site.) The company's "Amazon.com Associates" program allows Web site owners to register for the program, then provide either an Amazon.com search feature, or links to specific books or other products sold by Amazon.com, on their site. Amazon.com then pays a commission on any sales that result from users following those links, such as happens with the TidBITS BookBITS page. The patent (number 6,029,141) theoretically gives the company the right to stop other merchant Web sites from using affiliate programs unless they pay Amazon.com a licensing fee.
Amazon.com has previously been awarded patents on its "One-Click" ordering system and its approach to refining user searches by suggesting possibly related products. Other online merchants and Web sites have expressed dismay at the awarding of these patents on seemingly obvious Internet techniques that many sites have already implemented. [MHA]