E Commerce: They've Got The Patents But So What?

Open Market will find it hard to turn prestige into profits

When Open Market Inc. announced in March that it had won three patents in electronic commerce, the scope of the claims was breathtaking. The fledgling Burlington (Mass.) company seemed to have staked out rights to some of the most widely used technologies in the exploding business of buying and selling over the Internet. Its patents cover electronic shopping carts, the authorization procedure for real-time payments over the Net, and "session identifiers," which let online merchants track a shopper's movements on a Web site. "There's really no form of Internet commerce that doesn't use one or all of those components," says analyst Christopher W. Stevens of market researcher Aberdeen Group Inc.

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