Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos has moved to deflect criticism of the online retailer's patent policy, saying he will lead an effort to try to revamp the US's patent issuing procedures.
The action follows the threat of a boycott by thousands of software developers over Amazon's decision to sue rival Barnesandnoble.com to enforce a patent it was awarded for its so-called 1-Click method of ordering goods over the internet.
The developers believe that the patent should never have been issued because there is ample evidence of "prior art" - that the invention is not new. They also claim that the lawsuit is an attempt to stifle internet innovation.
Bezos is attempting to pacify the software community by posting an open letter on Amazon's website announcing his patent plan.
In the document, he defends both Amazon's right to the patent - and another one it owns relating to its affiliates' programme - and the company's lawsuit against Barnesandnoble.
But he added: "I now believe it's possible that the current rules governing business method and software patents could end up harming all of us, including Amazon and its many shareholders."
As a result, Bezos said he was prepared to lobby US Congress to try to have the rules regarding patents modified.
Such changes would include shortening the time that a business process or software patent is valid for from 17 to three to five years.
Bezos also advocates the introduction of a short public comment period before a number is issued for business method and software patents to enable discussion of the prior art issue. He also said he would be prepared to help fund a prior art database.
Tim O'Reilly, the man who led the protest against Amazon and organised the 10,000 signature petition, welcomed the move. O'Reilly is founder of technical books publisher, O'Reilly & Associates.
"If Time Magazine's Man of the Year says that the patent system has gotten out of hand, that may well have more impact on the powers that be than if 10,000 relatively anonymous programmers do so," O'Reilly writes on the publisher's website, where the issue has been debated at length.
And for those sceptical of Bezos' motives, O'Reilly added: "One thing about a call for action in Washington is that it could be seen as just a way of shifting the focus away from Amazon and on to the Patent and Trades Office. I don't think that is what Jeff is trying to do, but one way to tell that for sure is by the amount of follow up we see over the next few months."
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