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Will Amazon’s Cursor Patent Lead To Manipulated, Unintended Clicks?

March 4th, 2013

(By the way, this application includes more delicious examples of classic legalese. For example, how would you define a mobile device? This is how Amazon’s lawyers did: “A nontransitory computer-readable medium having computer executable instructions encoded thereon, the computer executable instructions, upon execution configuring a processor to perform operations comprising: rendering a graphical indication of user input as part of a graphical user interface.” It’s the “executable instructions upon execution” that makes it lyrical.)

The application spoke at length about how the full control of the mouse clicks can be retained by the retailer.

“Pointer gravity parameters may be predetermined or user configurable to set a threshold distance from a clickable link where a gravitational field becomes active. The rate of deceleration for gravitational field activation may also be predetermined or configurable by the user and may differ for various types of links. For example, links represented by images may have a stronger gravitational pull than that of textual links,” the application said. “When a link has weaker gravity, the pointer may move through the region or field with less delay, and may even appear to skip over the link more quickly, than in comparison to pointer movement through links with stronger associated gravity. Along a trajectory, when a pointer decelerates within a gravitational field of a navigation element, gravity-based link assist automatically positions the pointer at the assisted-center of the associated link.”

Can users resist or override the strong gravitational suggestions made by these sites? Yes, but it will take some effort. “Links may be configured to have a stronger gravitational pull or enhancement in some situations. In various implementations, the pointer gravity application may exert a gravitational pull that keeps a pointer at an assisted-center position for a period of time,” the application said. “In such implementations, a user may overcome the gravitational pull by continuing to move the pointer or accelerate out of the gravitational pull.”

Used as described—to help a shopper using a slower piece of hardware—it’s innocuous and helpful. Indeed, it could be very helpful for E-tailers that would otherwise be losing purchases their customers want to make. That said, there is a clear potential for abuse here.

This abuse could easily hurt E-tailers that do not succumb to these temptations. That would happen if abuse became rampant enough that shoppers started avoiding online purchases for fear of their mouse following orders from someone else.

The problem, of course, is if this results in unintended purchases on sites—such as Amazon or Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iTunes—that already have payment data on file and use some form of one-click. Would some sites roll the ethical dice, assuming some percent of unintentional purchases will not be challenged?

For what it’s worth, Amazon—under its current management—is not likely to even consider such a tactic. But if this gravitational approach gets widely licensed or, more likely, the idea is widely copied without the benefit of a paid license, the potential for wrongful use is very much there.


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