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Amazon Patents Including a String at End of a URL 306

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the why-didn't-i-think-of-that-oh-wait dept.
theodp writes "On Tuesday, Amazon search subsidiary A9.com was awarded U.S. patent no. 7,287,042 for 'including a search string at the end of a URL without any special formatting.' In the Summary of the Invention, it's explained that 'a user wishing to search for 'San Francisco Hotels' may do by simply accessing the URL www.domain_name/San Francisco Hotels, where domain_name is a domain name associated with the web site system.' Here's the flowchart that helped cinch the deal."
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Amazon Patents Including a String at End of a URL

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  • Wha? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shinma (106792) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:42AM (#21084129) Homepage
    I'm not sure they even LOOK at patent applications anymore.
    • Re:Wha? (Score:5, Informative)

      by KevMar (471257) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:48AM (#21084193) Homepage Journal
      yep, I have never ever seen this one before.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prior_art [wikipedia.org]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SomeStupidRandomSearchTerm [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by urlgrey (798089) *
      If anything was ever evidence of a totally, completely, utterly broken patent system, this is it.

      How in the world was this ever even submitted?!

      There's SOO much prior art out there on this one, it's utterly laughable.

      Oooohh.... I've got an idea: I'll patent anything that starts with http: and ends with .com that relies on... TCP/IP... Yeah! That's the ticket! That's how it happened. I was there...*


      * with apologies to Jon Lovett
    • Re:Wha? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AmaDaden (794446) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @10:08AM (#21084491)
      It makes me wonder if someone can just patent filing a patent and just make the system grind to a halt.
    • No, they just look at the check for the patent fee you submit with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mwvdlee (775178)
      Fsck those Amazon idiots.

      I'm patenting some_words.topical_search_engine_domain_name.com

      I'm pretty sure I had that search-idea a few years back though. Even if it fails the prior-art test, it's pretty friggin' obvious to anybody who has ever used mod_rewrite.

      My own website has two mechanisms very much like this patent and has had so for quite some time now; "file.html" requests are parsed by mod_rewrite, then send as a parameter to a PHP where the named page is loaded (and integrated in a template).
      My photoa
      • Re:Wha? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @11:35AM (#21085869) Homepage Journal
        Atleast Amazon can't patent THOSE methods now, since I've published them :) Amazon seems to make a living patenting obvious ideas, makes you wonder why they never patent anything REALLY original.

        Actually, they probably can patent the things that you built years ago. Then they can sue you for violating their patent, and it'll be up to you to prove that you had the idea first. I hope you have kept enough evidence to convince the court, and enough money to pay your lawyers.

        Fact is, the US Patent Office no longer does any serious patent examination. The huge expansion of patentable ideas back in the 1990s, plus dropping the need for a working demo, plus the decreases in Patent Office funding, means that they now pretty much just rubber-stamp patent applications and let the courts sort it out.
    • by Stamen (745223)
      Sometimes things need to get really bad, before people wake up and make changes.

      Perhaps, a company should be created, whose sole purpose to to flood the patent office with patent applications with things like "Sticky substance used to attach two or more objects" and "Method of training an animal with verbal direction and praise", to be followed with "Method of training an animal with verbal direction and hand motions", "Method of training an animal with verbal direction and hand motions, while standing or s
  • Isn't there a Drupal module that already does this?
  • by twoboxen (1111241) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:44AM (#21084149)
    I have patented putting characters in an ordered sequence. I'm calling it a SENT-ENCE. I'd ask for your thoughts on it, but I will of course need royalties.
  • Prior art? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:45AM (#21084163)
    The php website has done this for ages when searching functions. I am sure they have been doing it before 2004.

    eg.

    http://www.php.net/stupid%20patents [php.net]
    • When did Amazon "invent" it though? It was obviously invented before it was patented, but how long before? If it was before anyone else "invented" it, then it doesn't matter others did it with no influence (direct or indirect) from when claiming prior art (it might be significant in proving obviousness though).
      • by hankwang (413283) *

        When did Amazon "invent" it though? It was obviously invented before it was patented, but how long before?

        The filing date was August 2004; in the American patent law, you have to file within one year after the first public disclosure. (In Europe, you can't file a patent at all after a public disclosure.) I think I've seen virtual URL spaces before August 2003, but I'm not sure about search requests. Note that the patent specifically claims having the search terms directly at the root of the web site, e.g.

      • by Asic Eng (193332)
        When did Amazon "invent" it though?

        On the patent the filing date is given as "Mar., 2004". So I presume prior art needs to predate that date.

        • Someone else has already answered the question, but no it doesn't. It needs to predate March, 2003 or whenever Amazon "invented" it (whichever is later). If I had prior art for January, 2004 and Amazon invented it (and had proof they did this) in December, 2003 then my prior art wouldn't be early enough.
  • My patent (Score:3, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:48AM (#21084201) Journal
    I'm patenting a method where you click on a link and yo return a '404' for the first five minutes the link is avaialable. You leave some kind of message indicating you should try again, thereby increasing page views and advertizing rates.
  • by Se7enLC (714730) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:49AM (#21084217) Homepage Journal
    How is this not an obvious use of apache mod_rewrite??
    • by Fizzl (209397)
      I even tried tagging the article as "mod_rewrite", because before I had read the headline completelly that word came to mind.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tim C (15259)
      This absolutely is an obvious use of mod_rewrite, and is something that we did about 5 years ago to make an e-commerce site we developed here in the UK more Google-friendly. So, instead of having URLs of the form /product.do?id=12345, we made them of the form /product/12345 and had a mod_rewrite rule in Apache rewrite that internally so Resin saw it as the first form. It wasn't exactly new back then, either.

      I've not read the patent fully, but if the Slashdot summary is accurate then it's utterly ridiculous.
  • Prior art (Score:2, Interesting)

    by futuramarama (687115)
    I'm willing to grant that the patents reviwers are probably too overloaded to be able to thoroughly search, or even to be all that savvy on all matters technical... But there really needs to be a better system for determining prior art - a way for them to put up a website saying: "hey, has anyone ever thought of using a pre-definined character in a url before?"

    And then when that server crashed under the deluge they'd know that someone probably had.

    It doesn't help that companies actually encourage their staf
    • Isn't this the logic software developers use? Avoid looking at patents because if you knowingly infringe one and cannot defeat the patent then the damages increases dramatically? If its good for the goose.....
  • by Skrynesaver (994435) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:50AM (#21084243) Homepage
    After intensive study of the proposed method in the flowchart, it appears to be an if statement.

    While in some ways this story is a dupe of the , "Some fuckwit given exclusive right to picking noses in an obvious way" story that seems to run every second day, the US does need to do something about this in the short to medium term as it is having the opposite effect to that intended by the framers of the original patent legislation through being inappropriately applied to things wich are either not original or not inventions.

    I fully expect to see a large contingent of genuinely innovative tech companies moving HQ over to Europe and refusing to offer patent indemnity for their USian users in the medium term if this sort of crap continues.

    Stop this madness now as they say.

  • by MyDixieWrecked (548719) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:51AM (#21084261) Homepage Journal
    Similar implementations have already been done.

    With Ruby on Rails, it uses a similar technique for discovering actions. It even has facilities for creating custom URL maps so what would normally come across as ?search=blah would get converted into /search/blah...

    del.icio.us uses that for tag search (ie: http://del.icio.us/username/blah [del.icio.us]).

    For my internal invoicing system that I wrote in PHP (but never finished), you could search for invoices by going to /invoice/# or invoice/customer/[name or number] or search for customers using similar techniques.

    The trick involves a .htaccess file that does a rewrite to a single catch-all if the requested URL does not exist. The app can then parse the request and infer what the user really wants, whether it's an action of a controller, a query or similar.

    Although I've never seen this specifically applied to search (a la google), it's been used for filtering with tags (like del.icio.us).

    stupid software patents.
    • PHP's documentation can be searched the same way. Just type in whatever you are looking up ('php.net/ mysql query' for example) and it searches the docs for it. More importantly, this existed prior to 2004 filing date.
  • by matlhDam (149229) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:56AM (#21084321) Homepage
    This slide [php.net] from a talk delivered in January 2003 describes the same idea of searching by URL content (listed under "Interesting Uses"). I don't remember being particularly surprised by the idea at the time, so I'm sure there's considerably older prior art, but this was the first thing that sprang to mind.

    (Ignore the date on the top right, which always shows today -- the talk's date of January 22, 2003 is listed on the PHP talk index [php.net].)
    • by mwvdlee (775178)
      That site seems to have anti-IE scripting, making the author and his work irrelevant since he values zealotry over reality.
  • by marcello_dl (667940) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:57AM (#21084327) Homepage Journal
    Only, wikipedia search for the string in the URL is an option that is one click away.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ain't%20it%20true [wikipedia.org]

    If you ask me I'd use the wikipedia way, or the good old search box.
    Because if you're typing into the address box in a browser, you're likely to have autocompletion. That means you're likely to start a search whenever you want to get back at the site, bad for the search engine.
    Also your searches are accessible through your browsing history - as for all searches through get requests I think.

    Having said that, this patent differs from the prior art of wikipedia by simply doing an additional step automatically. Where's the innovation, USPTO guys?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Creepy (93888)
      While I agree this is a silly patent, I also agree - it doesn't quite work the same as wiki or cgi-bin searches, but it isn't exactly doing an additional step, it's really avoiding a step and assuming search, unless a token is present. It checks the URL string during string URL parsing and if a token is *not present*, it searches for whatever is specified by stripping off the website location instead of following the string - the default action is search, not go to the URL specified as per a normal web act
  • by postbigbang (761081) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:57AM (#21084345)
    The only way to get a reaction from boorish behavior in this industry is to hit someone in the wallet.

    Don't like this seeming madness? Easy: don't shop at Amazon or any of its affilates.

    Maybe they'll stop filing these things.

    Perhaps there should be additional legislation that says that patent trolls, having been outed by prior art, should be forced into receivership. There's no spanking these satanic IP holders.
  • That's mod_rewrite! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sandb (691178) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @09:58AM (#21084361)
    Did they just patented mod_rewrite??? Tue Aug 24 06:55:44 1999 UTC (8 years, 2 months ago) baby! http://svn.apache.org/viewvc/httpd/httpd/trunk/modules/mappers/mod_rewrite.c?revision=83751&view=markup&pathrev=573831 [apache.org]
  • I think the owners of Slashdot should patent: A method for fanboi's to digitally express their opinion without proper knowledge, or even reading referenced information.
  • ...for years, we've been trying to explain to the clients that spaces have no place in URLs, and these yoinks go an' mess it all up...
  • Uhh... it's not that hard to do.... I've been doing it on sites I build by using a custom 404 page that grabs the url string and explodes it into parts (whether it's a single string or a / delimited url) and passes it to the site search with the end result being a page that says, Sorry we couldn't find what you're looking for, here are some possible matching pages." Then a list of search results with the string components as keywords.

    This is certainly a useful thing to provide to your users as an error page
  • by pbhj (607776) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @10:16AM (#21084573) Homepage Journal
    It doesn't appear to have been granted yet. I imagine it's probably at "search" stage wherein the search examiner has issued their preliminary report with citations.

    Anyhow Google URLs are acknowledged prior art. The idea is to use simply a free-form string of 1 or more words to perform a search. Wikipedia isn't a spot on citation (though it would help to refine the main claims) as, for example, "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/write an article" simply leads to a page which allows a search to be performed. Granted that's not a huge inventive step but in such a well worked field it is significant.

    What I'd be considering is for example the use of mod_rewrite (or similar) to perform a "search" in alternate directories if a file is not found with the specified name. At least the claims would need to be more specific as to what constitutes a "search".

    So wikipedia isn't a spot on citation ... anyone want to cite documentary evidence from before 3 March 2004.
  • I think these patents are so obviously flawed, they will be challenged and overturned the minute they try to enforce it. I have a hunch Amazon knows it too and they will use it only to brag, "We have a portfolio of 123 patents" as part of their presentations to investment brokers and stock analysts. But still, we definitely need some form of patent reform.
  • Path info is the information beyond the end of a URL. I've often used extra text at the end of a URL to search or check which page. I'm not sure when Apache's PATH_INFO variable was first introduced, but I first started using it back in 1998 I believe. Lately I have had a better idea, AliasMatch. I use that directive use a single script to front either an application or an entire site, or even multiple sites.

    AliasMatch "^/[^\.]*$" "/some/php/file.php"

    Within PHP you can choose a page to display based on the
  • Flowcharts (Score:5, Funny)

    by stu42j (304634) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @10:20AM (#21084635) Homepage
    Flowcharts can be very useful and convincing [toothpastefordinner.com].
  • LOL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @10:23AM (#21084677)
    Sorry... Does anything more need to be said?

    OK, lets talk inflation.

    Inflation of the money supply, inflation of grades, inflation of patent numbers, inflation of job titles...

    It's really all the same thing. The more there is of something the less any individual item is worth. Money, grades, patents. Yet the vast majority seem to have some significant difficulty with that concept. More is better than less. Thing is, you don't actually have more, you have less but with a bigger number. Interesting. I wonder if there's a level of I.Q. where people simply can't understand that concept... Maybe they'll be happy when they earn a zillionty dollars per year each, have a PhD and are titled "Captain of the World".

    By creating thousands, tens of thousands of patents you aren't actually producing anything of value, you're simply throwing doubt on the value of all patents.

    Real value is relatively unrelated to inflation. The economy only grows for real (real stuff like chairs, tables, cars) at a couple of percent a year. Real academic achievement is still hard, only a small proportion are up to it and only a small number of patents are really innovative and being captain of the world doesn't help much if you are still sweeping streets.

    Essentially, inflation is deceit. People who inflate are at the very best, liars and more usually swindlers planning fraud.
  • by eck011219 (851729) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @10:25AM (#21084721)
    It's a given that big corporate entities like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and all the others are going to try to patent everything they can. It's been discussed here before, and it's just a cold war effect -- if you're the only company NOT trying to patent everything, you lose. It's a dumb way to run a world, but there you go.

    But the USPTO is the problem. Granting a patent like this just reinforces the grabby, greedy behavior of the big companies and creates an environment where companies are pitted against each other not in services or products but in ownership of intellectual property. If my company can get the edge in my industry by patenting something my competition uses (prior art be damned), there are going to be a bunch of businesspeople and attorneys within my company (not to mention shareholders) who are going to insist I file the patent. It's up to the USPTO to call bullshit on these things, and it's not doing it.

    Not to mention that the big companies seem to get these things to go through while little guys seem to come up empty when they try to do it. If you have enough attorneys, you can pretty much do anything anymore. But that's a rant for another day ...
  • I did this in 1999 (Score:3, Informative)

    by mckyj57 (116386) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @11:12AM (#21085513)
    I did this in 1999 as a part of software I wrote. I created a facility to map actions to URL strings (and yes, this includes the empty string), and one of the examples I gave was taking a freeform string and searching for it.

    I am sure there are many, many, other cases where people mapped 404 to a search, which is the same thing.

    In short, not only is this obvious, it is defeated by prior art.
  • I did this in 1996. (Score:3, Informative)

    by DdJ (10790) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @11:12AM (#21085519) Homepage Journal
    I was doing this in 1996.

    I had just joined a startup company, "Hells's Kitchen Systems", or "hks.net". We were an e-commerce startup. Our main product was CCVS, a credit-card processing system for Linux and other versions of Unix. But our first product was a shopping mall written in PHP. Not a simple store, but a mall -- it could contain multiple stores, each of which had multiple departments, each of which had a variety of products.

    So, the web content was driven from database searches. But we did not want it to look like that was the case -- we wanted it to look like a family of hand-crafted web sites.

    So we did exactly what's described. We appended strings to the end of URLs, and parsed the URLs and used them to search in order to build the pages. People would go through an ordering process, and an order was composed and faxed to the warehouse so it could be fulfilled. It was meant to be a cheap way to get any company that could take catalog orders onto the web without forcing them to change their business processes too much.

    It was originally written in PHP/FI2, and then ported to PHP3.

    Two different stores that used the system made it into production and were up for years. I am going to wrack my brian to try to remember their names, and if I can, I'll find them on the wayback machine so I can point to them. I bet a bunch of my comments made it into the delivered HTML, and so we might be able to actually prove my claim.
  • Use RFC 2606! (Score:4, Informative)

    by EnvyRAM (586140) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @11:16AM (#21085597) Homepage
    "URL of the form www.domain_name/search_string, where domain_name is a domain name of the web server system" Jassy, et al. needs to read the RFCs! There are nice, reserved domains for uses such as this: example.com, example.net, and example.org. This is very handy when writing documents of this type and everyone should use it. http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2606.txt [ietf.org]
  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @11:34AM (#21085853) Homepage Journal

    The issuance of a patent only provides a presumption of validity. If Amazon decides to sue someone for running afoul of this patent, the defendant in such a case will be able to marshall all kinds of evidence that the patent was at the very least, precluded by prior art and was obvious.

    Remember that issuance of a bad patent isn't the end of the world. The patent system was designed to be fault-tolerant. If Amazon wants to sue on the basis of their bad patent, they'll face difficulties in court, not to mention in the court of public opinion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      the defendant in such a case will be able to marshall all kinds of evidence that the patent was at the very least, precluded by prior art and was obvious.

      The problem is that the first defendant in such a case may not have the financial resources to defend their use of the technique in court. Once a court precedent is set it becomes more difficult for subsequent defendants to challenge the patent.

  • by Petronius (515525) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @12:30PM (#21086743)
    there, I've said it.

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