The e-commerce market faced the prospect of a major shake-up last week when software vendor Open Market issued three wide-ranging patents which covered almost all aspects of internet commerce.
The three patents covered real-time credit card payments, server-based electronic shopping carts, digital authentication, and Web-based marketing.
Open Market, the largest single e-commerce vendor, claimed these technologies were used in its internet software, Transact 4 and LiveCommerce, in 1995.
With its broad claim, the company believes most of its rivals are infringing their patents. A representative of Open Market said: 'Our preference is to adopt a multiple licensing strategy to enforce our patent rights. We are just starting to approach other companies in the market.'
But a representative of IBM said its lawyers were currently examining the fine print of the patents.
A licensing agreement would only emerge if the patents stand up to intense legal scrutiny. Frederick Keenig III, an intellectual copyright lawyer at Volpe Koenig, said Open Market has the chance to get the industry giants on its side by offering them reasonable licensing agreements or suing.
'If it gets Microsoft and IBM to sign a licensing agreement, the smaller companies are less likely to fight the patents.'
David Alschuler, head of electronic research for Aberdeen Group, said: 'A licensing agreement of a penny on every ATM transaction could run into billions for Open Market.'
However, Alyse Terhune, research director for e-commerce at Gartner Group, said: 'Here we have a company that has not been profitable for years and suddenly it wants payments from almost everyone in internet commerce.'
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