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Amazon Patents the Milkman 365

theodp writes "Got Milk? Got Milk Delivery Patent? Perhaps unfamiliar with the concept of the Milkman, the USPTO has granted 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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Amazon Patents the Milkman

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  • Frost Pist! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @03:30PM (#42835867)

    What about ice delivery?

    You kids with refrigerators stay off my lawn!

  • by hedgemage ( 934558 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @03:30PM (#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.
  • Really??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bobthesungeek76036 ( 2697689 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @03:33PM (#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:Why patent? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @03:33PM (#42835929)

    Because they can use it to threaten smaller competitors.

  • Re:It's official (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @03:34PM (#42835951) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • Well ok then. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JustAnotherIdiot ( 1980292 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @03:40PM (#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?
  • Re:Really??? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NettiWelho ( 1147351 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @03:41PM (#42836063)

    Amazon must have some stellar intellects...

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

  • 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:It's official (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @03:58PM (#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."

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @04:14PM (#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.
  • Re:It's official (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @04:14PM (#42836501) Homepage

    More closely to the actual patent:

    "My invention is a method [] 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.

  • by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @04:15PM (#42836515) Homepage Journal

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

    This would fall under "Business method" patents. As for recurring deliveries without reordering, maybe my weekly newspaper should print a story on this "new" business method. They've only been doing this since they started.

  • Re:Ok (Score:4, Insightful)

    by samkass ( 174571 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @04:19PM (#42836581) Homepage Journal

    I'm not arguing that it's a defensible patent, but it's also not patenting what the summary or TFA claims. Here's the #1 core claim of the patent:

    1. A computer-implemented method for providing recurring delivery of products, the method comprising performing instructions under the control of a computer system for: receiving at the computer system a designation of a delivery slot and a recurring delivery list comprising one or more list items, each of the one or more list items identifying a product, a quantity to deliver, and a frequency of delivery; periodically generating, by the computer system, an order having a date and time for delivery based on a next occurrence of the delivery slot, the order being generated in advance of the date and time for delivery such that the order has a period of time of pendency prior to the delivery; creating, by the computer system, one or more order items for the order based on a last delivery date and the frequency of delivery of each list item in the recurring delivery list; receiving at the computer system a change made to a first list item of the recurring delivery list during the period of time of pendency of the order; in response to receiving the change, determining, by the computer system, whether the order includes an order item corresponding to the first list item; in response to determining that the order includes an order item corresponding to the first list item, modifying, by the computer system, the order item corresponding to the first list item based on the change made to the first list item of the recurring delivery list; and providing, by the computer system, the order to an order fulfillment system capable of causing the one or more order items to be delivered substantially on the date and time for delivery.

    In other words, it's a particular implementation of a subscription system that has to include every element in the above list in order to infringe. It would be easy to work around this in implementing a subscription system. It's also not generally how milkmen used to operate. It's also PROBABLY covered by prior art, but whenever I hear "X just patented Y that's stupid LOLOL!" I have to go to the claims, and I usually see that, no, only a particular implementation/method for accomplishing Y is covered.

  • by niftymitch ( 1625721 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @04:30PM (#42836713)

    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.

    Oh bother... someone has been futzing with the word process.

    There is an apparent corruption of the word process that confused a physical process with a logical process. The process for making steel is not the same as a process describing how to manage the making of steel.

  • by leonardluen ( 211265 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @04:56PM (#42837063)

    except you can't use those to threaten and counter sue and attempt to force them to drop their suit.

    for an analogy...say you are a bully carrying a stick out to steal someones lunch money. you come across victim A who is holding up his backpack defensively...might as well take a few whacks at him, he can't do much to you, and maybe you will get lucky and his lunch money will fall out of his pockets...worse case you hit him too hard and your stick breaks

    on the other hand you come up to victim B who also has a stick. now you have to consider whether you are the one that will get the beating. it is similar to the debate about guns, having your own stick puts you on equal footing to your aggressor.

  • Re:It's official (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chilvence ( 1210312 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @05:06PM (#42837187)

    Fucking brilliant :)

  • by wed128 ( 722152 ) <> on Friday February 08, 2013 @05:13PM (#42837269)

    Correct, it is not new. Not exactly sure what you mean by "not useful" though.

    He means the ability to patent the process is not new or useful. He was not speaking about the process which, while not new, is useful.

  • Re:Ok (Score:4, Insightful)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @05:18PM (#42837335)


    Its pretty amazing when you read all the claims, and imagine dragging and dropping a dozen eggs onto the manifest of a truck that will just happen to be near your house at 7pm every second Wednesday. And then being able to put that delivery on vacation hold, or add a one time order of 12 pork chops for the big barbecue you are planning next Saturday. And the delivery will take place within the time period you specify so the neighbors dog doesn't run off with your chops while you are at work.

    Amazon has to know where the trucks will be at future points in time.
    Provide you with a way to put products on that truck, set them to be periodic or one time, Adjust your orders, add, subtract, reduce, or hold.
    All from your computer, and (hopefully) from your smartphone.

    Its way more ambitious than the Milkman, and I'm not aware of anything that comes close.

    People have to stop the knee-jerk reaction to headlines.

  • Re:It's official (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DrData99 ( 916924 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @05:29PM (#42837455)

    Well, Amway Corp has been doing this *on a computer* for quite some time. And they have lawyers that *might* take exception to having their business processes patented by someone else...

  • Fire the reviewers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @06:25PM (#42838085)

    This is one instance where the incompetence of the reviewers is so blatant that they should no longer be working for the USPTO. There is a point that people need to be held accountable for their decisions. The USPTO has become too much of a rubber stamp under the idea that the courts will sort out any issues. The system breaks down under that model as many people do not have the money to go to court. The USPTO is hardly a speed bump in the patent process any more.

  • Re:Ok (Score:4, Insightful)

    by c++0xFF ( 1758032 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @06:31PM (#42838135)

    First off, yes, I read the patent.

    Amazon is, of course, doing something on the scale that nobody else has attempted. They'll probably be very good at it, and good for them.

    However, that has nothing to do with the patent. The processes described by the patent are the exact same thing that people have been doing in real life on smaller scales for hundreds (or maybe even thousands), of years.

    There is nothing ... NOTHING ... in that patent that enables them to do this on a large scale, except for the automation that a computer provides (which, unfortunately, seems to make anything patentable these days). If you disagree, please call out something specific, like an actual claim in the patent, and a description of why it's something new and not just the first and most obvious solution their engineers came up with.

    Congratulations to Amazon if they pull off this scale of delivery. But what they're doing should in no way be patentable, at least not as described in the patent that was awarded.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @07:26PM (#42838805) Journal
    As an ex-paper boy I assure you newspaper deliveries were MORE flexible than Amazon 50yrs ago.

    They are patenting an entire delivery scheduling methodology for customer order management of groceries (etc) that will re-occur on a predictable and fairly precise time period of the customer's choosing.

    I have a picture of a milkman's horse lifting his blinkers with one hoof and rolling his eyes at this patent, it's just ordinary business practice for any company that delivers stuff to your door. The local chemist paid me to deliver stuff on on a push bike way back in the 60's. Most family's had one car (at most), the chemist had plenty of regular customers who had difficulty getting around so he bent over backwards to accommodate their needs. He didn't have a computer and trucks, he had an order book, a big black phone, and a bunch of eager kids on push bikes who had more than enough local knowledge to make UPS blush. If a customer was in dire need during school hours, he would get in his VW and deliver it himself. Virtually the same service is available today but it's organized by the government, you get a qualified nurse in a tiny car rather than a grotty kid on a push bike. There is however a shit load more paper work involved to join up.

    Copyright protects Amazon's software implementation of this age old business practice, the only possible use for a patent such as this is to burden and stall serious competitors with serious litigation, as in Apple vs Samsung. Software patents are a legislative experiment that failed. It was worth having the experiment, but now we know that all it does is provide an arena for elephants to fight, and we all know what happens to the grass when elephants fight.

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. -- John Keats