Of the four ways to protect intellectual property, patents are often the chosen method for technologically-driven companies like Amazon. And when a corporation wears a lot of figurative hats — book supplier, TV network, and drone manufacturer, just to name a few — there are bound to be tons of patent applications. But Amazon’s most recent might surprise you due to their innovative, and sometimes controversial, concepts.
Back in October 2017, Amazon received a patent for “content-based price reductions and incentives.” Essentially, the company patented a technology that allows Amazon to present online consumers with media advertising (either audio, video, or interactive content) in exchange for a discounted price or other benefits for the viewer in question. As Amazon is well aware, the market value of consumer electronics in the U.S. was estimated to surpass $120 billion in 2016, and Amazon has found success in many of its electronics like the Kindle and the Echo. With this patented technology, a customer could watch a video ad on a product page and in return, they’d see more of a price decrease the longer they continued to watch the video. Amazon hoped this would show customers their time was valuable while being able to sell more product overall.
Of course, U.S. e-commerce revenue keeps on growing; it’s currently hovering at about $423.3 billion and is steadily rising. And for all those products Amazon sells, it’s no surprise that the company is trying to find creative ways to store and distribute them. But their newest idea is really outside the (shipping) box. Last summer, the company designed a patent for an underwater warehouse facility that would use either acoustic signals or artificial water waves to retrieve water-tight goods to ship out to customers. It may sound like something straight out of science fiction, but Amazon says it’s a more efficient alternative to their current warehouses that require a lot of unused space to navigate them properly. In April, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved their application for these aquatic warehouses, but the company has yet to put the plans in motion.
In addition to increasing warehouse efficiency, Amazon may also be trying to make sure its workers are more productive. Last month, the company received two patents for wristbands that would track employee movement and theoretically buzz the workers if they go in the wrong direction. Using ultrasonic sound pulses or radio transmissions, the wristbands would track where an employee’s hands are in correlation to inventory bins within the company’s fulfillment centers. While Amazon says this invention could make an employee’s routine more straightforward, privacy advocates have come forward to express concerns about how the tracked information would be utilized and how the entire process would impact the workplace culture and morale. The bands aren’t a reality quite yet, but with the use of robots in the workplace combined with a desire to control workers to an extreme degree, some might say things are getting a little weird over at Amazon HQ.
Still, no one can accuse the company of resting on its laurels. As of January 23, 2018, Amazon held 7,096 U.S. patents under two different entities, which makes it the largest patent-holder among its global competitors. We may not be totally sure which patents will come to fruition and which will remain in the design phase as yet, but most are choosing to keep a watchful eye on Amazon to see what the company comes up with next.