BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : JUNE 5, 2000 ISSUE
BUSINESS WEEK E.BIZ -- INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Border Clashes


The mad dashes by Web companies to lock up patents on business processes can be crafted to protect turf. The patents, often workaday acts now handled by technology, end up as costly court cases. Here are some ongoing examples:

Priceline v. Expedia
Priceline is suing to stop competing travel site Expedia from using its patented ''name your own price'' system. Expedia says telling a vendor what you'll pay and seeing if it's accepted is an ancient practice. Expedia lost a dismissal motion and the case is pending. The priceline patent is narrow enough that it may survive. Rivals can do similar systems that refine the model, though priceline will try to stop any that copy it too closely.

Amazon v. BarnesandNoble.com
Even though Amazon now believes the trend toward business process patents may hurt the Web, it went to court for an injunction stopping a rival bookstore from using ''one-click'' shopping last Christmas. Critics say the process was too obvious to be patentable. Amazon disagrees. Barnesandnoble will have to rebut the patent office's finding that if one-click shopping were obvious, someone would have done it before.

Mercata v. MobShop
MobShop says it's close to a patent on using groups of buyers to negotiate with manufacturers--after Mercata had launched a site to do the same thing. Mercata's site raises doubts about whether the idea was novel enough to patent. Also, group buying is common in the physical world. Mercata has 11 patents pending and says it will not be hampered by MobShop.

CoolSavings v. Response Reward Systems, BrightStreet, et. al.
CoolSavings' patents on processes for doling out online coupons have several companies claiming that their patent rights have been infringed. CoolSavings is a plaintiff in six cases, a defendant in five others. Cases like these usually end in negotiated settlements.



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