Following two years of litigation in federal court, Amazon has defeated a patent infringement case related to online grocery shopping. The patents involved technology that Amazon integrated into its Alexa digital assistant and Echo smart speakers. The technology allows people to use voice commands or scan bar codes of products when they are creating shopping lists, putting items in shopping carts, and ordering them from local stores.
Freshub, the owner of the patents, argued that Amazon knew about the patents before promoting the technology for use in shopping online at Whole Foods. Before Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017, Freshub had held separate discussions with both Amazon and Whole Foods. In 2019, Freshub had demonstrated its technology to the general manager of Alexa Shopping at Amazon.
Amazon responded by arguing that the patents were not valid. It also claimed that Freshub had perpetrated patent fraud in handling its application with the US Patent and Trademark Office. Freshub initially filed an application to patent a refrigerator with a camera that recognized images of products in 2005. It abandoned this application but revived it over a decade later, once Amazon had released Alexa and Echo to great success. Amazon suggested that Freshub had revived the application so that it could get a windfall from the profitability of Alexa and Echo. The patents were not issued until 2019. Freshub sued Amazon shortly afterward.
While the case was pending in a federal court, Amazon asked the review board at the USPTO to consider whether the Freshub patents were wrongly granted. However, the USPTO declined because its rules prevent it from reviewing patents that form the basis of ongoing litigation if it has reached a certain stage.
In the end, the validity of the patents turned out to be irrelevant. A jury in Texas ruled in favor of Amazon, finding no patent infringement. Its victory probably forestalls potential lawsuits by Freshub against other tech giants that have used similar technology, such as Apple and Google.
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