AN OVERBROAD PATENT ON NETWORK SALES SYSTEMS - This issued patent seeks to patent the idea of... using a computer to add items to a shopping cart! 10 minutes of your time can help narrow US patent applications before they become patents. Follow @askpatents on twitter to help.

Patent: US Patent No. 5,715,314

Title: Network Sales System

Summary: Claims systems and methods that allow a buyer to purchase products online using a computer(!)

QUESTION - Have you seen anything that was published before October, 1994 that covers each and every element in the system below:

Claim 34 describes a network-based sales system in which the buyer adds items to a “shopping cart” that is maintained in the seller’s online database and then receives a message to purchase the products.

Claim 34. A network-based sales system, comprising:

  • at least one buyer computer for operation by a user desiring to buy products;
  • at least one shopping cart computer; and
  • a shopping cart database connected to said shopping cart computer; said buyer computer and said shopping cart computer being interconnected by a computer network;
  • said buyer computer being programmed to receive a plurality of requests from a user to add a plurality of respective products to a shopping cart in said shopping cart database, and, in response to said requests to add said products, to send a plurality of respective shopping cart messages to said shopping cart computer each of which comprises a product identifier identifying one of said plurality of products;
  • said shopping cart computer being programmed to receive said plurality of shopping cart messages, to modify said shopping cart in said shopping cart database to reflect said plurality of requests to add said plurality of products to said shopping cart, and to cause a payment message associated with said shopping cart to be created; and
  • said buyer computer being programmed to receive a request from said user to purchase said plurality of products added to said shopping cart and to cause said payment message to be activated to initiate a payment transaction for said plurality of products added to said shopping cart;
  • said shopping cart being a stored representation of a collection of products, said shopping cart database being a database of stored representations of collections of products, and said shopping cart computer being a computer that modifies said stored representations of collections of products in said database.

The priority date of the patent is October 24, 1994.

Is there any prior art that describes using a computer to add items to a shopping cart via a computer network and then purchasing the products? We are particularly interested in sources that describe how the shopping cart feature operated and how the payment message, if any, was sent to the buyer. Any information about online shopping systems from the early 1990's would be helpful.

  • Did you check google search: online shopping history OR online shopping cart history?
    – Mikk Putk
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 16:42

11 Answers 11


Charles stack had the first online bookstore and pre-dated Amazon.com by three years. His website was at http://www.books.com and was called "Bookstacks Unlimited"[0]. Unfortunately I can't find any information that describes the implementation of his system. However, it's possible that he may be able to provide more detailed information.

The idea of using a customer's computer to place an order with the vendor's computer system, and to have that vendor manage a "shopping cart" that represents that customer's order in a database, is a fundamental idea that underpins almost all shopping systems. It would be difficult to implement such a system while still avoiding the management of the shopping cart, I would be very much surprised if the online shopping components of CompuServe, Delphi, AOL and Prodigy did not function in the same way; CompuServ's solution ("The Electronic Mall") debuted in 1984. Unfortunately, details on the implementations of these systems is also scarce, I couldn't find any concrete descriptions of how these e-commerce solutions functioned.

[0] http://www.sbnonline.com/2002/07/visionary-in-obscurity-charles-stack-operates-in-two-business-communities-151-cleveland-and-the-internet-151-and-isn-146-t-well-known-in-either-this-time-around-that-146-s-going-to-change-he-hopes

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-commerce


Possibly this At&T viewtron video (from around 1985/1986 I think) is useful. It shows online shopping, including entering quantity and making payment:



Effects of Information Technology on Financial Services Systems (Washington, D. C.: U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, OTA-CIT-202, September 1984). http://ota-cdn.fas.org/reports/8411.pdf (page 130) describes

"Viewtron subscribers will also be able to order J. C. Penney catalog merchandise by using a direct link to J. C. Penney computers in Atlanta. They will receive online order confirmation upon completion of their order. If the requested item is not available in the color requested, the J. C. Penney computer will offer the Viewtron subscriber other color possibilities. The J. C. Penney catalog inventory system is immediately and automatically updated. In addition to processing the catalog order, the gateway to J. C. Penney will also provide for credit authorization for the J. C. Penney card, as well as for VISA and Mastercard. "

Also, this article apparently from IEEE ‘Annals of the History of Computing.’


which specially mentions a system in operation in 1984 that used a 'shopping basket' (uk synonym for a shopping cart)

Finally, there is this video of the Telaction system from about 1989-1990, showing a shopping cart quite clearly, although by telephone:


Described in more detail in this chicago tribune article: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1987-10-16/entertainment/8703180526_1_basic-cable-package-viewers-home-shopping Possibly useful?


Intershop claims to be the first online store, WikiPedia puts the date at 1995 but their own site claims they started doing it in 1992: http://www.intershop.com/company-profile.html

In the early days, e-commerce websites were restricted to shopping functionality, but it soon became possible to map complex sales and procurement processes. Customer expectations grew as technology progressed. As an industry pioneer, Intershop has been driving and supporting the development of online retailing since 1992 and thus possesses unparalleled e-commerce experience.

(emphasis added) a call to them for historic records may prove fruitful.

Additionally, a PRNewswire article dated Jan 3 1994 (which predates this filing date) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/APPLE+COMPUTER'S+eWORLD+TO+CHANGE+THE+SHAPE+OF+ONLINE+SERVICES-a014665738 specifically mentions the new Apple eWorld which included:

the Marketplace for purchasing products and services

online through their device(s). Presumably there was an online store, but someone is going to have to dig around to see when/if Apple did indeed "sell products OR services" online


I thought this was litigated and these were invalidated for obviousness and prior art: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/2011-1009.Opinion.1-17-2013.1.PDF

SUMMARY The claims in suit of the ’314 and ’492 patents are invalid for obviousness over the CompuServe Mall system. The claims of the ’639 patent are invalid for obviousness over Johnson in view of additional prior art, and the other evidence presented. The judgments of validity are reversed, and therefore the judgments of infringement and damages are vacated.


I specifically remember buying CDs in 1992/1993 from cdconnection.com. You'd 'telnet cdconnection.com', be presented with a search interface, and could search for and select CDs. Once you were done selecting, you'd submit your payment information and they'd mail you the CDs.

I no longer have access to the mail account I used at the time, but I'm pretty sure they sent mail messages with order information.

I just mailed cdconnection.com to see if they'd be able to clarify.

Update: Unfortunately, though cdconnection has their pre-2000 telnet version's source archived, it would be very difficult to resurrect it for viewing. They did confirm that they had a "shopping basket" and then the checkout step allowed payment by check or credit card.


Mercantec (CEO Bill Tait) released a shopping cart system in 1995. I'm not sure of the release date, but I have email from him, dated October 1995, describing the system. He may well be able to document it prior to the filing date the previous year.


There were a few BBS sites that had a cart and checkout system. Finding pictures of these is proving to be difficult. The GEnie main menu from 1993 shows #7 MH Books had one and #8 LASERCRAZE had one.



Virtual Vineyards (which later became Wine.com -- cofounders Robert Olson & Harry Max) designed various online shopping/shopping cart elements in ~1993-4-5. Robert and Harry are both on LinkedIn, should be able to reach them that way for prior art evidence.


I wonder if IBM's patent titled "System for ordering items using an electronic catalogue" (US 5319542 A) @ http://www.google.com/patents/US5319542 already claims to implement this. There's no mention of "shopping cart," but Amazon's patent (http://www.google.com/patents/US7512548) references IBM's. IBM filed their patent on September 27, 1990, while Amazon did theirs on October 8, 1999.


The French system MiniTel included "on line" purchases. I believe at its inception in the late 70's train tickets could be purchased.





Possibly eShop, which was ultimately bought by Microsoft: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EShop

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