In September 2017, one of the most controversial patents in the online retailing market expired: Amazon’s ‘One-Click’. 

In 1999 Amazon, now perhaps the most famous retailer in the world, was a fledgling online presence that had launched four years prior. It was during 1999 that the company was granted the patent.

The growth strategy

One-Click allowed returning Amazon shoppers that had already entered billing and shipping information to purchase items with just one click of a button. This innovation transformed e-commerce, adding a new layer of convenience to online shopping.

A one-stop fight

Beyond ease of use, the patent granted Amazon a competitive edge over other e-retailers. In 1999 Barnes & Noble – Amazon’s chief rival – implemented a similar technology on its website. Amazon promptly sued the company, with the case settling in 2002.

The patent meant that online retailers were forced to license One-Click. Apple announced customers could purchase products from the Apple Store with one click in a partnership with Amazon, and other technology companies followed.

Business sense

The technology to support single click ordering already existed before 1999, but Amazon was the first company to patent it. This resulted in its monopoly on an innovation that many thought should never have been patentable in the first place.

One-Click has become a central part of Amazon’s strategy.  It is critical to the Dash concept – where customers can replenish stocks of items simply by pressing a Wi-Fi connected button.  One-Click is also integral to retailing via Amazon’s Alexa voice-based product range, because it enables people to buy goods via voice.

Did the patent propel Amazon?

It is difficult to assess how much of Amazon’s success – if any – is due to One-Click.  It was certainly responsible for providing a stream of licencing revenues as well as delivering a clear statement that Amazon would use patent protection to move its business forward.  At the same time, the company has done many other things to help build a reputation for retailing anything and everything – usually at a competitive price with fast delivery.  One-Click did not guarantee Amazon’s position in online retailing – it was one of many, many innovations that helped.

Recently Amazon filed patents for the delivery of parcels via drones and only last week the company was granted a further patent in this area – this time enabling drones to self-destruct if something goes wrong on route to a delivery. Whilst these new applications have been seen by some as publicity stunts, the One-Click patent demonstrates that the company is happy to generate intellectual property around conceptual ideas long before they necessarily become reality.