Amazon.com, one of the world's largest online retailers, is on the brink of losing one of its most coveted patents. And it knows who to blame: a New Zealander called Peter Calveley.
The 36-year-old from Auckland has waged a solo campaign against Amazon and its army of lawyers since 2004 over the retailer's claim to its famous 1-Click patent, a process that enables online shoppers to buy goods with the single click of a mouse button.
In response to Calveley's request to re-examine the intellectual property, the US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) has just handed down a decision rejecting all but five of Amazon's 26 claims to the patent.
The Patent Office agreed with Calveley's claim that processes similar to the 1-Click solution had been documented before the Amazon patent was lodged in 1997.
Eight of Amazon's 26 intellectual property claims were dismissed because of a Newsweek magazine article entitled The End of Money?. It was published in 1995 - two years before the 1-Click patent was lodged.
The article described a process where someone could click a button to pay for "an annotated bibliography of every article ever written about Sandra Bullock" and download the file.
The decision came after a 17 month-long investigation by the USPTO into US Patent number 5,960,411, described as a "method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network". Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and its current CEO, is listed as one of the four inventors.
Calveley has not been officially informed about the adjudication because the letter from the USPTO has yet to reach his post office box. But the decision has been posted on the USPTO site and the actor and choreographer was tipped off when he noticed a surge in traffic to his blog.
"They [Amazon] deserved to get slapped a bit around the head," Calveley said in a telephone interview after learning about the decision.
He said that challenging patent holders could become a "new and fun sport", indicating he had several other targets in the crosshairs.
Amazon has two months to lodge an appeal with the USPTO and can opt to take its fight to the civil courts.
An Amazon spokesperson told the CNET technology news website that the company expected to file a response to the USPTO decision by the deadline of December 9.
The process works for subsequent purchases after a shopper has already input their credit card details.By expediting the process, the shopper is less to bail out of a transaction.
Critics argued that Amazon used its monopoly over what some claimed was a simple process unworthy of being patented to stifle competition.
In 1999, less than a month after the patent was approved, Amazon sued one of its major competitors, barnesandnoble.com, for using a similar process on its website. The company was forced to stop using it after losing the court case. Amazon now licences the process to many websites.
Calveley, who has no formal legal training, launched his crusade against Amazon after he used the site to order a book called Presenting Digital Cash in September 2004. He paid the extra few dollars to have the delivery fast-tracked by a courier company.
When the book failed to turn up, a frustrated Calveley vented his frustration in a post on his blog. "GRRRR!!!," he wrote on October 4, 2004.
Assuming the book had been lost in transit, he ordered another copy of the book. And while he was waiting for that to arrive, the first one turned up.
Ironically, the books were ordered not directly from Amazon but through one of the retailer's affiliate booksellers. And Calveley, who says he was only "mildly annoyed" by the stuff up, accepts that the delay was probably more the fault of the courier company than of Amazon.
Nevertheless, he decided to target Amazon. "OK, time for some UTU for the annoyingly slow book delivery," he wrote in his blog in November 2004, using the Maori word for revenge.
After trawling the US records, Calveley found another patent describing an "online secure financial transaction system" which had been lodged in 1996 - a year before Amazon's.
He also found references to a so-called DigiCash payment method in which a click on a website payment link would trigger a server to send a payment request to the customer. That also pre-dated the Amazon patent.
With the help of donations from readers of his blog, Calveley was able to cobble together the $US2520 fee the Patent Office office charges to re-open patent examinations.
In May 2006, the USPTO informed Calveley that his request for a re-examination had been granted after an initial investigation raised "substantial new question of patentability of claims".
Over the course of the past year, Calveley says Amazon was obliged to send him copies of documents presented to the USPTO to support its case. He now has some 65kg of paperwork stored at his home.
This is not the first time Calveley has made headlines. In 2003 he launched a one-man campaign to get his name included on the credits of Peter Jackson's Lord of Rings movies for his work as a motion capture artist.
Jackson's digital effects operation Weta Studios filmed Calveley and about a dozen other actors, using their movements as the basis for the computer-generated orcs and elves.