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Shopping Cart Upended

January 28, 2013

The shopping cart—a staple of retail stores since at least the 1930s—was patented in 1940, as the “Folding Basket Carriage for Self–Service Stores,” a brainchild of Sylvan N. Goldman (Piggly Wiggly). No doubt, it was an innovative idea, and a welcome relief for weary housewives.

Once the wheels of the shopping cart were set in motion, however, it is not surprising that, as retailers relocated their aisles online in the last years of the 20th century, an electronic version of the shopping cart quickly followed them.

Soverain Software, a non–practicing entity which recently went head to head with Internet retailer Newegg (after securing many other settlements), claims to have invented—and patented—the online version of the shopping cart (in other words, basic online checkout technology). Soverain received a favorable, if pyrrhic, verdict against Newegg at the district court before winning more lucrative judgments against Avon and Victoria’s Secret. Since its initial success, Soverain has continued to sue online retailers who employ online checkout technology and, given the scope of its claims, there seemed no end to potential targets.

Fortunately for ecommerce companies everywhere, Newegg fought on, filing an appeal against the verdict, and arguing, inter alia, that Soverain’s patents were invalid. The Federal Circuit agreed, finding Soverain’s asserted patent claims covered by technology found in the CompuServe Mall, a pre–Internet electronic shopping system.

We’d like to think that Sylvan N. Goldman, wherever he is, is smiling.

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