Who is Amazon coming for next?

Boss watch: Jeff Bezos has had a busy year so far, judging by patents filed, start-ups acquired and lawsuits contested.

by Paul Simpson
Last Updated: 09 May 2019

The private life (and, indeed, private parts) of Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, have been unusually public of late. Yet staring down The National Enquirer has not distracted him from his usual modus operandi – as he said recently: "I like to organise my personal time so that I live mostly about two to three years in the future." (So the surprise decision not to open a second head office in New York is, for him, a distant memory.)

To that end, Amazon’s relentless filing of patent applications continues. Newly granted patents include: an in-house robot to collect packages from delivery trucks; a real-time accent translator and a new Alexa feature that analyses speech patterns to identify when its owner is ill – and then orders medicine.

Amazon may have at least 500 patents pending but Bezos does not encourage ‘Not Invented Here’ syndrome. His company acquired Eero, a start-up that makes home Wi-Fi connections faster and more reliable with a mesh network-powered system – a logical purchase after its $1bn acquisition of smart doorbell company Ring in February 2018.

US kitchenware and home-furnishing retailer Williams-Sonoma is suing Amazon, accusing it of infringing its copyright, partly by creating a ‘shop Williams-Sonoma’ website which it says is misleading customers into believing they’re buying direct and, by offering an inferior service, damaging its reputation. Amazon says Williams-Sonoma just wants to monopolise sales, but a California judge ruled that the tech giant must face the lawsuit following a hearing in April 2019.

Amazon has launched a tool to allow brands to delete fake listings and is using AI to identify offenders. For the first time Amazon used the word "counterfeiting" in its annual report, acknowledging that it ran the risk of being found liable for illegal activities by sellers on its platforms. In 2018, The Counterfeit Report found that, since May 2016, 58,000 fake products had been for sale on Amazon. The company is likely to get tougher on fakes because it doesn’t want to pay billions in fines or have its reputation besmirched, and is keen to tempt back brands such as Swatch, which left the platform over the issue.

As a private investor, Bezos has recently invested in mental health app Mindstrong and Chilean plant-based food start-up NotCo and is, through Blue Origin, still racing with Elon Musk and Richard Branson to launch space tourism. The good news for Bezos is that he thinks he’s winning, although he and his fellow buccaneers are facing growing competition from China.

July will mark Amazon’s 25th anniversary and, in a nostalgic touch, the Seattle house Bezos rented when he invented the business is for sale for $1.5m. Surely it should be preserved as a historic landmark?

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