One lost book, one disgruntled customer and a potential million dollar legal fee for Amazon – it’s the latest in a series of morality tales showing how e-commerce companies can be hit where it hurts most due to bad customer experience.

The tale begins in October 2005, when Peter Calveley from New Zealand ordered a book from Amazon, which never turned up (it was actually ordered from Amazon’s Marketplace, not even Amazon itself – but that’s another issue!).

One month later, Peter decided to let loose the wrath of Utu upon the mightly Amazon – Utu is a traditional Maoiri ‘obligation to undertake payment upon others for a wrongdoing’. And his chosen form of payment was to inform the US Patent Office that Amazon’s famous patent for 1-click payment was in fact covering essentially the same idea as a patent filed 18 months earlier.

As if to test Peter’s resolve, the US Patent Office replied with a request for $2,520 – the cost of a full patent re-examination. Undeterred, he posted a request for donations, added a Paypal button to his blog site and two months later the fee was in the post.

Fast forward to May 2006 and the request for re-examination is granted by the Patent Office. According to Wikipedia a typical patent infringement case in the US costs $1-3M in legal fees – not sure if this counts as an ‘infringement’ case but one thing for sure, it’s going to cost them a lot more than a replacement book and an apologetic phone call.