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IBM mounted a rare legal action against Amazon.com on Monday, accusing it of breaching intellectual property rights that underpin the e-commerce company’s fundamental online business model.

The case marks an unusual venture into the courts for Big Blue, which has worked hard to paint itself as a fair and willing licenser of its own intellectual property, rather than an aggressive defender of its industry-leading bank of 40,000 patents.

It also carries an ironic twist for Amazon, since the e-commerce company has itself become notorious in the internet industry for its aggressive defence of so-called business method patents. Its attempt to enforce its “one-click” checkout method in a lawsuit against rival Barnesandnoble.com in 1999 has come to be used as a prime example by critics of the US patent system.

IBM said it had filed two cases in Federal court in the Eastern district of Texas accusing Amazon of breaching five of its patents. The patents cover what it claims are a number of fundamental practices in networking and e-commerce, including the use of hypertext links to make recommendations to a customer, methods of presenting and linking to online adverts, and networking architecture for delivering online content faster.

Given how fundamental the patents are, Amazon has “built much if not all of their business on top of our intellectual property”, said John Kelly, IBM’s senior vice-president for intellectual property.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company had not yet been served with the lawsuits, and so could not comment.

Mr Kelly said IBM had mounted only two other patent lawsuits this decade and that it had only taken action now after trying for four years to persuade Amazon to take out a licence.

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