The Definition of “Obvious” In Simple Terms

Whether a patent is “obvious” is a legal definition, based on the state of the art at the time of the invention.

Remember back when the net was young and e-commerce was in its infancy. Buying something on line was a tedious task, where page after page of questions needed to be answered perfectly before a sale could be finalized. There were repeated concerns about sending credit card numbers over the internet that sent doubts in the minds of buyers, and the complexities at that time were a big impediment to e-commerce in general.

At the time, there were brilliant website developers and excellent businesspeople who sensed that e-commerce could be a profound new vista for commerce. There were many talented people working very hard on the problem of making e-commerce functional and useful. The only solution to date was using complex, tedious forms.

At that time, there was some concern that buyers may inadvertently purchase goods. Thus, there always seemed to be at least one “verification” page that verified the buyer actually wanted to make the purchase. This was probably to protect the merchants in response to angry customers who received goods that they did not actually want.

Within this context, Amazon developed the One-Click buying process.

From a legal standpoint, One-Click was not obvious because at the time, nobody had come up with the idea. Many factors in the market place at that time were going against One-Click: the prevailing use of many forms, and particularly the use of verification and confirmation pages in executing the transaction.

When One-Click was introduced, it was revolutionary. It was so revolutionary that it changed people’s thinking about e-commerce to the point that people now mistakenly call it “obvious.”

Amazon went completely against the tide in creating One-Click. Online merchants were adding verification pages to protect themselves and the buyer from executing an unintended sale while at the same time touting that they did not keep any personal information about buyers. Amazon threw out the conventional wisdom at the time on both accounts and did something radical and different. At the time, it certainly was not “obvious,” because nobody had done it yet and nobody was even willing to do it.