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Amazon Patents the Milkman

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the ice-delivery-men-jealous dept.

Patents 365

theodp writes "Got Milk? Got Milk Delivery Patent? Perhaps unfamiliar with the concept of the Milkman, the USPTO has granted Amazon.com a patent for the Recurring Delivery of Products , an idea five Amazon inventors came up with to let customers schedule product deliveries to their doorsteps or mailboxes on a recurring basis, without needing to submit a new order every time. 'For instance,' the filing explains, 'a customer may request delivery of one bunch of bananas every week and two gallons of milk every two weeks.'"

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365 comments

Way to go, patenting the fucking obvious (3, Informative)

benjfowler (239527) | about a year ago | (#42835853)

Jeff Bozos is a chiselling little crook.

Re:Way to go, patenting the fucking obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836031)

Reached for a comment, Mr. Bezos replied:

Hey, when it comes to patents, I'm not the bad guy here!

Re:Way to go, patenting the fucking obvious (4, Insightful)

coastwalker (307620) | about a year ago | (#42836219)

You get the feeling that now the housing market is bust we need a new a new commodity to inflate into the next mega bubble.

Ladies and gentlemen I give you the new economy - trading patent portfolios.

1. Write down everything that has ever been done in human history on bits of paper
2. Convert bits of paper into patents
3. ?????
4. Profit!

Re:Way to go, patenting the fucking obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836399)

Even without considering prior art, this is not an invention.
It's not patentable matter.
Why is USPTO asleep at the switch?

Re:Way to go, patenting the fucking obvious (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836451)

35 USC 101: Patentable Subject Matter
"Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title."

That's the black letter law and has been for quite some time. Not saying it is right, or that the interpretations haven't been vastly overextended, but patents don't cover just inventions.

Re:Way to go, patenting the fucking obvious (4, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year ago | (#42836489)

One click was based on an idea a few thousand years old. "put it on my tab" worked like one-click for more than a thousand years.

Ok (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42835865)

I'm confused. Do we like or hate Amazon in this story?

Re:Ok (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year ago | (#42835909)

As I understand, they patented their subscribe and save feature which has been around for years. How nobody else implemented this almost justifies that amazon should get the patent... almost, it's a stupid patent.

Re:Ok (2)

bobthesungeek76036 (2697689) | about a year ago | (#42835963)

Bravo to them to think of patenting such nonsense. Who woulda thunk??? The USPTO must be a bunch of monkeys behind the keyboard...

Re:Ok (1)

eksith (2776419) | about a year ago | (#42836169)

Assuming they have keyboards. If the latest string of asinine patents are a hint, I'm willing to bet, they're two guys called Bill and Ted (but 80 years old) and instead of having an awesome phone booth adventure, they get to go on a ladder ride among dusty shelves full of patents.

Re:Ok (1)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | about a year ago | (#42836089)

As I understand, they patented their subscribe and save feature which has been around for years.

Note that this patent has been around for years. It was "Filed: November 2, 2009". Yet another example how patents which might be reasonable when applied to mechanical objects are completely stupid when applied to computer software. Even if this patent might have taught someone something when it was first filed (which looks extremely dubious; I suspect IBM mainframe automatically delivered supplies from the 1960s will be prior art), four years is a lifetime in internet computing. There is no way this could ever be a useful idea on it's date of publication.

Re:Ok (4, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#42836161)

How nobody else implemented this almost justifies that amazon should get the patent...

Newspapers implemented it a few centuries ago. If you subscribe to a newspaper, it is delivered to your door, and you get a discount off the newsstand price. You can also vary the schedule. For instance you can get it delivered everyday, or just on Sunday.

Re:Ok (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836397)

Quite a few online pharmacies will send you regular shipments of medications. Yes it is a stupid patent.

Frost Pist! (3, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#42835867)

What about ice delivery?

You kids with refrigerators stay off my lawn!

It's official (3, Funny)

bobthesungeek76036 (2697689) | about a year ago | (#42835869)

The USPTO has no signs of life...

Re:It's official (4, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year ago | (#42835951)

Apparently, you can take any patent in the database, copy-pasta in a word processing document, go to the end of the document and add these characters:

....ON A COMPUTER!

And you have a new patent, ready for filing.

This is becoming absolutely absurd.

Re:It's official (1, Funny)

Camaro (13996) | about a year ago | (#42836083)

I love pasta. May I license your patent?

Re:It's official (4, Funny)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year ago | (#42836141)

No.. but add "...on a computer" on the end of it and it's your innovation.

Re:It's official (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836457)

Does that mean anyone who writes spaghetti code will now owe royalties to him? Entry level programmers, and the companies that hire them, will be bankrupt within a day.

Re:It's official (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836187)

Don't you mean this is becoming... patently absurd?

Re:It's official (5, Insightful)

rolfwind (528248) | about a year ago | (#42836313)

The thing is, that this wouldn't be patentable in real life, even when patents first began.

Back then:
"Hey, I want to patent something?"

USPTO: "What?"

"A customer requests a product, not just once, but to have it delivered to them regularly. We keep their names on file and send it out and collect payment at the end of the month."

USPTO: "That's not an invention, that's how you run your business. Fuck off."

Re:It's official (4, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year ago | (#42836501)

More closely to the actual patent:

"My invention is a method [wikipedia.org] for business, where I have a machine that will listen to my customers, record what products they want regularly, and maintain an ongoing list for each customer. Whenever a product on the list needs to be ordered so it will arrive when the customer wants it, this machine will alert me place the order on the customer's behalf... on a computer."

Or in other words, it's not really like a milkman, or even how a milkman operated, but let's not let that get in the way of our Slashdot-mandated rant against the USPTO.

Re:It's official (4, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#42836411)

Apparently, you can take any patent in the database, copy-pasta in a word processing document, go to the end of the document and add these characters:

....ON A COMPUTER!

And you have a new patent, ready for filing.

In a 2007 ruling [wikipedia.org] the Supreme Court said these sorts of "combination patents" are not valid. So I can't see how the USPTO can justify continuing to issue them.

Re:It's official (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836479)

It's simple: they rubber stamp everything and let the courts deal with it.

Re:It's official (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836467)

I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

Re:It's official (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836485)

This is becoming absolutely absurd.

You might even say it's patently absurd...*ducks*

Sounds like a subscription... (5, Insightful)

hedgemage (934558) | about a year ago | (#42835877)

Newspapers, magazines, book-of-the-month, all these are products that are delivered at regularly scheduled intervals. But these are old media, so it makes sense that Amazon doesn't know about them.

Re:Sounds like a subscription... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42835947)

Amazon doesn't know about books? I doubt that...

Re:Sounds like a subscription... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836101)

Newspapers, magazines, book-of-the-month, all these are products that are delivered at regularly scheduled intervals. But these are old media, so it makes sense that Amazon doesn't know about them.

There is at least two unique innovations offered by Amazon:

1. You are charged separately instead of annual subscription as you would with newspapers

2. Subscription happens on the internet with a computer

Yep, that looks highly innovative to me. They should have filed for two separate patents.

Re:Sounds like a subscription... (5, Informative)

digitig (1056110) | about a year ago | (#42836233)

When I had milk deliveries from a milkman -- quite a few years ago now -- I managed the deliveries over the internet. I no longer get that delivery, but I do get a recurring vegetable box delivery and a recurring snack box delivery, both of which I manage over the internet. This is in the UK, though, and the US Patent Office might not be aware that we exist.

Re:Sounds like a subscription... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836405)

To bad there are already web grocer's that have been doing this for years. I wander if they are going to have to suddenly start licensing their entire business model from amazon.

Re:Sounds like a subscription... (1)

Talennor (612270) | about a year ago | (#42836193)

Strangely enough, I've managed my magazine subscriptions through Amazon for years. So their own stuff is prior art! And old enough they can't patent it anymore.

Talk about obvious and pre-existing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42835887)

Aren't there a whole herd of men's razors and women's clothes shops that so this already?

Columbia House may have something to day about scheduling regular deliveries too.

Why patent? (2)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#42835889)

The first time they try to defend this patent, it will be thrown out of court. Seems like a waste of time & money.

Re:Why patent? (5, Insightful)

Desler (1608317) | about a year ago | (#42835929)

Because they can use it to threaten smaller competitors.

Re:Why patent? (2)

characterZer0 (138196) | about a year ago | (#42836211)

Or they figure it is cheaper and easier for them to patent it than to deal with some other company patenting it and harassing them.

Defensive publication (3, Interesting)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#42836353)

That's what "defensive publication" is for. Any invention that one publishes can't later be patented by someone else.

Re:Why patent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42835999)

If you develop a technology for a company and get a patent on it, it is highly likely you are getting a nice little bonus.

Re:Why patent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836303)

They will make you spend a couple million to defend your shipping of a product on a regular basis.
You go out of business, your grand children may get a dime some day.

Re:Why patent? (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about a year ago | (#42836475)

So this is just a defense patent. To squat on it before anyone else.

The US Patent Office seems like a waste of time and money to me.

Nearly all the good stuff is kept secret and proprietary and unfiled anyway.... and all the big 500 companies run their employees ragged filling out and filing bullshit.

All the megacorps usually have folders of patents, in a Mutual Assured Destruction situation with all the other megacorps. If you're a small guy, good luck enforcing your patents, it usually means who has the best lawyer (read: most money), not justice.

There seems to be two beneficiaries to the patent system: the big corps trying to keep smaller, nimbler competitors out. And the patent trolls.

I don't think either side benefiting so much is what the original framers of the Constitution forseen or wanted. The system has to be either abolished or tightened up considerably, with fines for frivolous applications. I'm thinking that the patent office should mythbust. Show us the best thing on the market. Show us your invention. We'll pit the claims against reality and see if there is an improvement. If no improvement, don't patent it, even if it's a new brainfart.

Really??? (5, Insightful)

bobthesungeek76036 (2697689) | about a year ago | (#42835923)

"... an idea five Amazon inventors came up with ..."

It took five of them to come up with this brilliance??? Amazon must have some stellar intellects...

Re:Really??? (3, Insightful)

NettiWelho (1147351) | about a year ago | (#42836063)

Amazon must have some stellar intellects...

Or an R&D department filled with lawyers instead of engineers.

Re:Really??? (5, Funny)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#42836201)

"... an idea five Amazon inventors came up with ..."

It took five of them to come up with this brilliance??? Amazon must have some stellar intellects...

On the other hand, it does open up a new avenue for the old joke setup;

How many Amazon inventors does it take...

- to screw in a lightbulb?
5 - one to screw it in, one to file a patent on the process of rotating an object until it is seated in a socket, and 3 more to pat each other on the back.

Re:Really??? (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#42836437)

Amazon would never be so ineffective. They certainly would file several patents on this: One for rotating an object in order to get it seated, and another one for stopping the rotation at the point where it is seated, both with subclauses for the case that the object is a light bulb, that the place it is put into is a light bulb socket, and that the direction of rotation is clockwise (and to be on the safe side, also a subclause for the case where you put it in by counter-clockwise rotation). Then two further patents for removing the old light bulb. In addition, one on selecting the correct light bulb for the socket. Not to forget the patent for the method of detecting when a light bulb has to be replaced by checking if light is emitted by it when a voltage is applied.

Not even the first website to do this! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42835953)

For instance, in the late 90's I know there were sites that would set up automatic recurring deliveries of crickets and other reptile foods for you. And I imagine there are many other specialized sites with similar systems.

Ok... (2)

Agares (1890982) | about a year ago | (#42835967)

This is crazy why do companies even get patents like this anyways? I use to think that people who say we should do away with patents were a little crazy, but maybe it wouldn't be as bad as I thought if it were to happen? I don't know hard to say, but stuff like this is ridiculous. Something seriously needs to be done already.

Re:Ok... (1)

cdrudge (68377) | about a year ago | (#42836065)

Honestly? Because just by itself it looks really small and harmless. No one would ever use it all by itself because it likely would be thrown out of court and/or invalidated. However to combine it with a hundred other equally ridiculous patents and you go after your smaller competition. The smaller guys might be able to fend off a few patent attacks, but if you throw your entire portfolio at them then it takes significantly more resources to fight. So the competition either capitulates, or licenses your nonsense patents.

The patent is valid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42835979)

The patent is valid because it is on a computer or it is on "the cloud". Sheesh you guys - don't you know how patents work by now?

You Really Can Patent Everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42835993)

First it's MS suing over a patent on page up and page down, now it's Amazon filing for a patent on the milkman. What the fuck happened to prior art? Oh right, corporate lobbyists.

This is actually pretty useful... (4, Funny)

AcquaCow (56720) | about a year ago | (#42836019)

...I use it so that I get a new pack of socks every 6 months...

Nothing better than coming home from work to a fresh package of socks!

ERMAGHERD SCHOCKS!

Re:This is actually pretty useful... (1)

DocSavage64109 (799754) | about a year ago | (#42836339)

What happens if they "accidentally" change the price of your sucks upwards of 1000%? Does it still automatically purchase them?

Re:This is actually pretty useful... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836373)

ERMAGHERD *SERKS

you don't reddit so good

Western Science Is So Wonderful (1)

Shimbo (100005) | about a year ago | (#42836037)

So if you happen to be passing through Waterbury, Conn., and see a solid gold milk truck driving itself through the streets, you'll know it's Jeff Bezos.

How many amazon inventors does it take... (5, Funny)

Dancindan84 (1056246) | about a year ago | (#42836039)

How many amazon inventors does it take to screw in a light bulb? No one knows, but it takes 5 to figure out how to automatically send you a new one every 6 months.

Re:How many amazon inventors does it take... (1)

slowdeath (2836529) | about a year ago | (#42836129)

I would venture that none of the Amazon inventors were alive when milkmen roamed the earth...

Well ok then. (3, Insightful)

JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) | about a year ago | (#42836045)

Did someone at Amazon tell their boss that you can patent the most bullshit things, and they're just seeing what the biggest BS patent they can get is?

Hmmm ... (3, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#42836057)

Columbia House did this years ago. I know many people get their oil or propane delivered regularly. TFS points out the milkman. Newspapers have been delivered for a long time.

This is a business process, not an invention from what I can tell.

Yet another patent which is a "system and methodology for doing something we've been doing for decades, but with a computer".

Epic fail to the USPTO.

Re:Hmmm ... (2)

characterZer0 (138196) | about a year ago | (#42836227)

I signed up on the internet to have diapers delivered on a schedule in 2007, 2 years before the filing date.

Re:Hmmm ... (1, Funny)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#42836273)

Wow, sorry to hear you need diapers, but glad you have the courage to admit it. ;-)

But seriously, automated, recurring delivery is decades old, possibly more. How this could even be patented is beyond me.

Re:Hmmm ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836349)

This is a business process, not an invention from what I can tell.

It's the process of configuring an existing business process over the internet!

fresh direct is prior art (1)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#42836061)

maybe even webvan

in the NYC area we have had a bunch of food delivery startup over the last 15 years

in the dot bomb era we had webvan. you order food online and they deliver. they bombed.
peapod is owned by a few B&M food stores and delivers
Fresh Direct is the new all online food store in the NYC area. they even partner with nice buildings here in NYC to offer special holding rooms for food and to have the doorman sign for it. they have had subscription food delivery for a long time.

Fresh Direct is a little more expensive than B&M stores, but for busy people its a huge timesaver

He's forgetting something... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836069)

Daily newspaper delivery began in the 16th century London, England.

Prior art. Oh yeah.

We need a strict firing policy in the USPTO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836111)

Anyone who approves an obviously bogus patent simply needs to be summarily fired.

Honestly - its not like auto-renewal, auto-shipping etc haven't been around long before Amazon. How are the nitwits who approve these patents?

Having gone through the process at my current job to get patents approved, I have to assume there is some degree of graft going on here. I've had reviewers shoot down patents over silly points, and yet somehow Amazon, Apple (and other BIG companies) get absurd patents approved. I think I smell money changing hands in a back room somewhere...

Re:We need a strict firing policy in the USPTO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836205)

No edit feature... Obviously I meant "Who are the nitwits", not "How"...

But they do it with a computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836121)

It's completely novel when you do add in some technology.

First to file. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836145)

The United States will switch to a first-to-file system on March 16, 2013 after the enactment of the America Invents Act. So it doesn't matter if milkman have been using this invention for 50+ years.

First to file affects priority, not novelty (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#42836435)

The United States will switch to a first-to-file system [...] So it doesn't matter if milkman have been using this invention for 50+ years.

How not? First-to-file affects only "priority", or conflicts between one patent application and another patent application. As I've explained [slashdot.org] before [slashdot.org] (as have others [slashdot.org] ), it doesn't affect "novelty", or aspects of a patent application anticipated by prior art. Think of publication as a "filing" that ensures that no one gets the patent.

Re:First to file. (1)

thebigmacd (545973) | about a year ago | (#42836447)

First-to-file only applies when two or more people apply for the same patent within the application period. Prior art is still relevant. The rest of the world with less-broken patent offices have always been first-to-file.

I patented the patent process (1)

bab72 (302207) | about a year ago | (#42836149)

I patented the patent process and I'm going to sue the next person that submits a patent!

Re:I patented the patent process (1)

AtomicBison (2667343) | about a year ago | (#42836255)

That was my immediate thought too!

Cuts out the middle man and according to my projections, will lead to greater amounts of profit. And we all know it's really about the profits! If only I had filed a patent for making money....

What if? (4, Interesting)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | about a year ago | (#42836151)

Are Amazon deliberately trying to discredit the USPTO, or even the entire patent system?

This patent fails on so many criteria: prior art, lack of novelty, obvious. If it's granted, it's a crock.

...laura

Innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836167)

Well the patent process surely is encouraging imaginative and innovative patent claims.

Its time to eliminate patents entirely. They are simply roadblocks to economic progress.

Ummm ... what about Alice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836223)

Hasn't Alice.com basically been doing this for years; milkman ... "with a computer". Or peapod for that matter?

Makes me wonder (1)

DontBlameCanada (1325547) | about a year ago | (#42836253)

Is this a real filing or is Amazon (or it's engineers) trolling the USPTO to see if there are any signs of life?
A software patent for something acting like the milkman that actually references milk deliveries? Something smells fishy.

Common Sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836257)

I have just filed a patent on common sense, now you will all have to go about like idiots or pay up usage rights to me.

DOLL (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836265)

sure that b7 the would take about 2 and its long term

this is going down... (1)

snemiro (1775092) | about a year ago | (#42836277)

What's the idea behind this kind of "patents"?? Some profit for some lawyers?? Can I patent "a displacement method using two organic carbon based devices, using one of them at a time" ??? Or "an organic device which captures air into a closed system and expels CO2" ?? So nature spent 4000 million years evolving for this??? what a waste....

first ti file? (1)

number6x (626555) | about a year ago | (#42836307)

Has first to file started yet?

If Amazon is the first to file on this does it matter how many people have done it before or even if they didn't invent it. It's all about who gets first post at the USPTO now isn't it?

Please help me understand. The broken patent system never made sense to me and the things Congress does to 'fix' it, like first to file, make even less sense.

Haven't they heard of prior art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836319)

Oh come on. Haven't they heard of prior art? The USPTO is out of control. And anyone who files a patent application like this appears stupid.

Patenting Air (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836323)

Thought about that for a few years now. Well someone has too, Right!
Providing Amazon or someone else says they have had that idea before me.
And since I live in Utah, where we have the dirtiest air in the continental USA. The cleaner it is, the more TAX charged.
Then after that I am going for water. H2O.
LOL

Jeff Bezos IS A GENIUS... (3, Funny)

Assmasher (456699) | about a year ago | (#42836327)

...his ACTUAL goal is to have software patents abolished entirely - while simultaneously protecting his company from others who patent things out of greed and avarice.

This explains why he continually patents the most ridiculously obvious things - it's an effort to eventually (so he hopes) get the non-technical world to realize how absolutely f***ing stupid the software patent system is. Sadly, he appears to think that his efforts need to be even more obvious; ergo, the latest patent.

I'm telling you - GENIUS...

BTW - On a serious note, I'd be embarrassed as an engineer to have my name as 'inventor' on a patent so blatantly f***ing stupid.

bad summary of patent (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836331)

The first claim includes the idea of automatic, last-minute changing of a recurring order. Without that element - no infringement. Bad summary in article.

good thing no prior art is out there (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836341)

from before November 2, 2009, I mean definitely nothing like the Petco Bottomless bowl that used a computer system to allow subscription delivery of a product so consumers didn't have to order it each time.
I mean no references at all from 2007
http://www.retailemailblog.com/2007/04/am-inbox-endless-bowl-of-upsell.html

Or especially not from 2001
http://chiefmarketer.com/direct-marketing/refill-please

The Petco.com site run by Petco Animal Supplies Inc., San Diego, has an auto-refill service called Bottomless Bowl. Customers buying products such as food, treats, litter and other staples that need frequent replenishment can set up the system to do so from every one to eight weeks. The system notifies customers by e-mail that the order has been shipped. The credit card is automatically billed (and as a courtesy, Petco.com tells customers if the card is about to expire). Customers can cancel an order by calling or e-mailing.

The service was started by Petopia.com when it launched in 1999. Petco acquired Petopia last December.

USPTO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836393)

Are they all 3?? I think all the former and present dairies should rise up and challenge this to sue!

USPTO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42836425)

What I don't understand is that we are currently trying to patent a couple different machines for the Agriculture industry, and we've been rejected a few times as our claims do not deviate from prior art enough, so far we've been able to differentiate our claims and proceed, but it's been pretty tough. they pull out prior art from vastly different machinery and say no to us, so why is it that something so obvious in software just floats on through. I'm guessing that although the patent is described as re-occuring delivery, the actual claims are for something different. the abstract and the claims can be pretty different.

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