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Amazon’s history of innovation under outgoing CEO Jeff Bezos

indoor manmade garden with the view of buildings
Construction progress of interior views of The Spheres, photographed Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Seattle, WA. (JORDAN STEAD / Amazon)
February 10, 2021

After 27 years at the helm of one of the five most powerful tech companies, Jeff Bezos is stepping down as Amazon CEO.

Bezos, one of the richest men in the world, spent a quarter of a century growing Amazon from an unprofitable online bookstore to a $1.7-trillion everything retailer. To do this, he ran Amazon with an intense focus on innovation: pioneering features like customer reviews, personalized recommendations, and expedited Prime shipping.

But perhaps Amazon’s most valuable invention is one-click shopping. Filed in 1997 and approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1999, the technology uses stored customer credentials to validate e-commerce transactions with a single click.

One-click shopping made the checkout process a breeze, and leading up to its patent’s 2017 expiration, many have argued that Amazon should never have been granted exclusive rights to the idea. In fact, the patent was denied twice in the EU, with examiners deeming the concept of reducing the steps required to make an online order “obvious,” or not inventive enough.

Still, one-click shopping’s patent protection in the U.S. — Amazon’s largest market — was more than enough to establish the company’s dominance. Amazon pressed this advantage through continued innovation, with its CEO among the key inventors.

A Harvard research article revealed that Bezos was named in 154 Amazon patents published between 1998 and 2018. E-commerce and logistics were the topics for 74 of these patents, and a customer-centric slant was observed across the board. The Wall Street Journal cited the obsession with giving customers what they want as among the key ingredients to Amazon’s success.

“If you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal,” Bezos told Amazon employees in his resignation announcement, “People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.”

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