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IBM Breaks Patent Record, Wants Reform 130

Posted by kdawson
from the I-got-mine-Jack dept.
An anonymous reader writes "IBM set the record for most patents granted in a year for 2006. At the same time, IBM points out that small companies earn more patents per capita than larger enterprises and pushes for reform to address shortcomings in the process of patenting business methods: 'The prevalence of patent applications that are of low quality or poorly written have led to backlogs of historic proportions, and the granting of patents protecting ideas that are not new, are overly broad, or obvious.' And the company has been committing itself to a new patent policy: 'Key tenets of the policy are that patent quality is the responsibility of the applicant; that patent applications should be open to public examination and that patent ownership should be transparent; and that business methods without technical content should not be patentable.'"
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IBM Breaks Patent Record, Wants Reform

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  • by PurifyYourMind (776223) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:09PM (#17565394) Homepage
    How about changes to make it easier or even possible to revoke bad patents?
    • If you think that the patent system is there for the interests of the inventors then you are wrong. It is they way it is for the interests of the people in the patent industry. The patent machine is a nice little money maker for Uncle Sam and the patent lawyers. If you spoil the players' fun then they won't want patents. Much better to make it really hard to revoke a patent. That needs lots of lawyer hours and money.

      It's the same for the tax system. That could be really simple, but no it's really complex so

      • I'm not sure what you mean by "patent system" but I hope you realize that the patent and copyright system is both mandated and justified in none other than Article I of the Constitution of the United States, which stipulates that Congress shall have the right...

        "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

        The patent system exists to benefit all people, not just inventors, nor just
        • "The patent system exists to benefit all people, not just inventors, nor just lawyers."

          That's true in theory. However, as currently implemented it strays from the "To promote the progress of science and useful arts" and mainly benefits lawyers.
      • Yeah, my Dad and grandfather applied for a patent repeatedly when I was a kid. Dad's an engineer and designed a garbage bag holder for use in the kitchen -- you'd put the bag onto the frame of the device (a set of bars that were hinged), and the bag would open and close neatly while keeping the trash smell out. Pretty convenient. Sadly, they blew 12 grand before they decided to stop applying for a patent. Apparently it was too similar to other such garbage bag holders that shut and kept the smell out.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yes I can see it now. Some kind of web forum populated by the technically minded with veto power. Their symbol will be a forward leaning line with a dot after it. There will be a background process that periodically sweeps the forum to get rid of "special interest" trolls.
    • by Dufftron 9000 (762001) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @07:24PM (#17566254)
      It is possible to revoke patents. It happens regularly, along with re-examinations prompted by either patent holder or a third party.
      http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/document s/1300_1308_01.htm#sect1308.01 [uspto.gov]

      The whole system is fairly transparent and the new proposed peer review system would be a great opportunity for you to provide all this prior art that you claim exsists so the the examiners can have access to it. They get a limited amount of time to try to find something and if they can't find anything there are limits as to the legal definition of obviousness that can be applied to reject an application.
    • You mean something like this [slashdot.org]?
    • by WebCowboy (196209) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @07:50PM (#17566632)
      I don't think it should be TOO easy to revoke patents, however as it stands it is much too difficult to do so. More importantly, I think that the patent systems in pretty much all juristictions are missing an important thing: RESPONSIBILITIES.

      Patents essentially grant monopoly rights to inventors for their creations for an extended time (say 20 years). This is to encourage innovation by giving the inventor time to fully develop and market inventions before competitors can rip them off. This is all based on the assertion that there is always a bigger, richer, "more evil" entity out there who could develop and market an inventor's creation more quickly than a resource-strapped inventor could. Without the originally intended patent protection many inventions would've been commandeered by big, established corporations and the end result would be that innovation would die away and the only entities capable of innovation would be those with vast resources (very large corporations and governments)--and such entities by nature are anti-innovation.

      The problem is that patent enforcement is only one-way--it grants protection TO the inventor but asks little to nothing FROM the inventor in terms of responsibility. I think patent reform should include a set of RESPONSIBILITIES as well as rights, and if the patent holder does not live up to those responsibilities the patent should be automatically revoked. The responsibilities I see would be something like the following:

      * The inventor must plan to develop and market this invention (make it available to the public in some way) within 'x' years or the patent will expire. The 'x' year period would be much shorter than the 20 year lifespan of a typical patent, and would depend on the "class" of a patent--complex physical devices would be granted several years where simple physical objects and non-physical inventions (technical processes, etc) would be allowed only one year from the granting of a patent. The inventor may develop and market the invention himself or license it to another entity, but the patent-holder CANNOT sit on a patent without actively trying to make the invention happen. If the patent expires after this time frame it becomes public domain.

      * The inventor must consistently enforce the patent--if someone willfully violates the patent and it is evident that the patent holder knows of this violation they must pursue royalties or other legal action against the violator within a reasonable time frame. There should be protection from "submarine patents" wielded by patent trolls, such as those used against RIM for example. If RIM made improper use of patented technology there was AMPLE time for the patent holder to take issue with it. It seems that the patent holders in this case deliberately waited until RIM had sufficiently deep and full pockets before reaching into those pockets for a settlement. The patent holder should have a cooperative relationship with developers and manufacturers, not a parasitic one. In such a situation the accused patent violator should have the means to have a patent revoked if it is wilfully abused this way.

      * If an invention DOES get developed and is marketed publicly, within the specified time frame and is properly enforced by patent holders, then the patent can be held for the full time frame. However, it must be CONTINUOUSLY marketed/licensed during that time. If the patented item ceases to be publicly marketed/used, and/or there are no current licensees to the technology, then the patent should expire early. Although the intention of the patent system was to encourage innovation, they have become a means of SLOWING innovation because so many good ideas sit in patent files gathering dust on shelves. It is perverse that corporations out there apply for patents (or purchase the patent rights) so they can DELIBERATELY shelve them, and sue out of existence any competition that tries to use the ideas covered in them.

      Patent law is just another case of what happens when rights are not balanced with responsibilities.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by gripen40k (957933)
        In reply with your comment, I just want to list a few notable problems with your ideas.

        * The inventor must plan to develop and market this invention...

        But what happens if his/her funding fell through? With no money to market and sell the idea, all of his/her hard work and dedication would be for nothing! But of course finding investors is also a form of marketing, so this would cause the patent 'lease' to be extended. In that case, a company could easily shelve it and 'look' for investors (ie say they are looking), there-by keeping their patent lease.

        * The inventor must consistently enforce the patent...

        Yes but you kn

        • "But what happens if his/her funding fell through? With no money to market and sell the idea, all of his/her hard work and dedication would be for nothing! But of course finding investors is also a form of marketing, so this would cause the patent 'lease' to be extended. In that case, a company could easily shelve it and 'look' for investors (ie say they are looking), there-by keeping their patent lease."

          They should license it to somebody who produces the item if they can't produce it themselves. If the li
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by KDR_11k (778916)
            Yes but if the timeframe is too short the companies will just wait until it expires and then use it without having to pay royalties.
            • "Yes but if the timeframe is too short the companies will just wait until it expires and then use it without having to pay royalties."

              That's a good thing. That gives the patent holder an incentive to have reasonable licensing fees if they can't produce it themselves.
        • by WebCowboy (196209)
          But what happens if his/her funding fell through? With no money to market and sell the idea, all of his/her hard work and dedication would be for nothing!

          This would be covered by the responsibility guidelines in a couple of ways: As I mentioned, patents would be issues in different "classes"--inventions that are more complex would be allowed more implementation time than simple ones (yes, even today there could be simple but non-obvious invention). A relatively simple patented process could potentially be
      • by eric76 (679787)
        I'm firmly of the opinion that an independent inventor should be able to use the idea even though he is not the original inventor.

        After all, if it is easy enough to come up with the idea with no knowledge of the original invention, it really can't be all that non-obvious.

        And if an inventor is not using his invention, he should not be able to enforce the patent against anyone.
  • IBM is smart. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:12PM (#17565420) Homepage
    They see the coming collapse of the entire patent system and would rather have some capability of holding monopolies than lose any chance of it.
    • by argoff (142580) *
      I agree. At this point we're just better off setting the term to zero and pushing the whole system over the cliff. "fixing it" will just prolong the pain.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        P and GP are correct. But the pain will not be shared equally. Those with more experienced players ( ie: patent lawyers ) will do proportionately better as the system gets worse. So none of the big players wants to see it go over a cliff.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Nah. It will just be replaced by something worse. Do you think shrink wrap licenses are bad now? Imagine a world in which you have to sign a license to use every form of commercial technology you use. Want to buy a tube of toothpaste? It will come with a shrinkwrap license that states that you have to agree not to reverse engineer, duplicate, analyze or even try to produce your own toothpaste.

        Patents exist because they are an improvement on a system where everything is held as a trade secret. Thow them out
        • Patents exist because they are an improvement on a system where everything is held as a trade secret.

          The big difference is that trade secrets does not prevent me from use my own ideas. Patents does, which is a huge limitation in the personal freedom. Trade-secrets, like copyrights, only prevent me from duplicating other peoples ideas (or expressions), which is much less of a violation.

          • The big advantages that patents have over trade secrets are that they:

            1. Have a limited term
            2. Require that you publish how you did it

            Trade secrets tie up the idea in perpituity and cause their inventors to keep the idea as secret as possible. There are all kinds of negative effects from this. Imagine drug companies operating with this set of rules.

            Yes, you can use your own ideas in this environment. But your won't have the ideas expressed in technical literature, scientific journals (at least publications
            • | The big advantages that patents have over trade secrets are that they:
              |
              | 1. Have a limited term
              | 2. Require that you publish how you did it

              True. This was why patents were invented in the first place, and many, many years ago those effect probably gave higher ECONOMIC benefits that the ECONOMIC drawbacks created by the monopoly. I very much doubt that is true anymore, and wasn't what I was talking about anyway.

              | Trade secrets tie up the idea in perpituity

              They tie up the idea for as long as nobody else ge
    • Re:IBM is smart. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by s20451 (410424) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:59PM (#17565988) Journal
      They see the coming collapse of the entire patent system and would rather have some capability of holding monopolies than lose any chance of it.

      Should the patent system collapse? Would that really be a good thing?

      Patents work like land title.

      Would it be possible to build a house without title? Sure, the same way it's possible to build a tech business without patents.

      Would there be benefits to abolishing title? Sure, you couldn't "hold" land you didn't use, as someone would build on it and you would be out of luck. Much like you wouldn't be able to "hold" an idea and get license fees as a patent troll.

      Will I be first in line at the county office to tear up my title deed and usher in this utopian future? OF COURSE NOT! Why? Because there's a serious risk that someone would bulldozer my house while I'm on vacation and build something else. The title system takes the risk out of land development, much like the patent system takes the risk out of technological development.
      • Re:IBM is smart. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @07:18PM (#17566184) Homepage
        There's the "intellectual property" meme again. Virtual property is unlike real property. If I steal someone's apple, that's a resource he will have to do without. If I copy someone's design, he still has it and can still utilize it. It's thought that treating "intellectual property" as if it were real property, outlawing theft, providing registration, etc. is a good thing, but it's still debateable.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          Agreed. Now if you'll excuse me I'll be in the bedroom hacking my DirectTV box to get free programming. Hey don't give me that look! The paying customers will make certain everything stays afloat.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Kadin2048 (468275)
            The DirectTV people probably could come up with a way to only transmit programming to people who've paid for it, say via careful distribution of encryption keys or hardware, but they choose not to because it's easier to make a weak technological solution and then buy some laws that prevent reverse-engineering. This is a serious problem, and it's the beginning of a whole lot of bad laws we're burdened with now.

            I have no problem if companies decide to try and encrypt their content. If they want to tie it down
            • Yep, I agree that allowing media companies to meddle in legislation is a terrible idea. We've had a wonderful demonstration of this in Europe when Janelly Fourtou (an MEP) was lobbying hard for IP 'rights'. Some wondered how many of the normal people who elected her to represent their interests were sitting around in cafés asking for greater legal protection for media conglomerates such as Vivendi? Probably not that many.

              The more suspicious suspected that her being married to the CEO of Vivendi may hav
            • by jmkrtyuio (560488)
              Kudos. The satellite point is one I have touted for quite some time. We are in 100% agreement. Those laws are the forbearers of what we have now.

              An analogy I use goes like this:

              Suppose I built a company that sold news to subscribers only, delivered by a chinese newspeaker who pedaled by with a megaphone. Is it not absurd to outlaw all chinese speakers and translators so that my revenue stream is not impacted? That would be good for me, but bad for the rest of the world.

              The only difference between sound wave
          • by aussie_a (778472)
            You should be free to intercept any and all communication that enters your private property. If the company doesn't want you doing it, they either need better encryption or should stop polluting your airwaves.
        • by s20451 (410424)
          The analogy is apt if you live in a country like mine [wikipedia.org], where there is no real shortage of land. In the absence of title, I would not necessarily be deprived of land, but it would suck to lose the improvements that I choose to make to that land.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Shados (741919)
          Yeah, because companies will all rush one by one to spend billions in R&D just to have a 5 people software firm take the idea and make a functional product out of it for pennies.

          Its like biotech patents. Yeah they have bad sides, but between all the billions spent, the risk taken, the years spent on R&D before you get a product, on top of the -extremely high- risk of getting sued to oblivion if you make the slighest mistake, if Walmart could just wait for you to spend the billions, only to sell the
          • What software invention cost "billions" in R&D. I don't believe there are any.

            Forbes says [forbes.com] that:

            In 2002, IBM spent $4.75 billion on research and development. That's more, in dollars, than Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

            Infoworld says [infoworld.com]:

            IBM filed more patent applications than any other company with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2005 to once again lead the annual ranking put out by the U.S. Department of Commerce office.

            The company filed for 2,941 patents in 2005, wh
            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by EarthlingN (660382)
              Just a thought, for fun.

              Maybe patents should be given a value or life span according to the amount of work that went into it.

              Say, for instance, someone built a small shell script* that could parse all known patents and generate all possible combinations of inventions or methods that haven't already been thought up. Then, let's say there is a useful-enough-to-patent** function that could weed out the chaffe and submit the rest as full blown patent pending requests.

              I wouldn't really want to give that person
      • Why? Because there's a serious risk that someone would bulldozer my house while I'm on vacation and build something else.

        Because if that were the case, I could hold vague and broad land titles for the entire country side and do anything with the land for years until someone someone thinks its still unowned and spend the effort to build a house...

        Then I jump out of the wood work and shout "GIVE ME YOUR MONIES!!!"

        When you look at the land title it says that I own everything that is nearby a tree and has grass
      • Patents of ideas, without recognized products should be discarded, or the USA should take the same stance as the rest of the WORLD.

        If a patent is infringed upon, the penalty would be the actual, not estimated losses, due to products which compete with the existing product for which the patent is filed. There would have to be proof of marketing attempts, and of manufacturing, not just to prototyping of the product being patented. No penalty if the patent was being held as a ransome or blackmail license.

        Ide
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by arevos (659374)

        Patents work like land title.

        Your analogy is tenuous. Land titles last indefinitely; patents last only a limited period. Land is a limited physical resource; a patented idea is information that can be used an unlimited number of times. Whilst there are similarities between the concepts, the differences are far more numerous.

        Would it be possible to build a house without title? Sure, the same way it's possible to build a tech business without patents.

        Presumably, a software developer counts as a "tech business", in which case it's worth noting that there are many tech businesses in the EU and elsewhere that are not protected by patents.

        The title system takes the risk out of land development, much like the patent system takes the risk out of technological development.

        Does software count as "

    • by kirils (1050022)
      I'll pray you are right about the collapse.
    • by btarval (874919) on Friday January 12, 2007 @12:18AM (#17569170)
      Oh, with all due respect, I think you are seriously understating the problem. IBM explicitly demonstrated this only too well last month.

      What isn't getting reported (at least not on Slashdot, for whatever reason) is that IBM's current actions are schizophrenic, if you view them in the best possible light. In the worst possible light, these actions can be viewed as an attempt to by-pass the Patent Office. To make absolutely certain that the big guys retain control over the process, and aren't pestered again by the little guys.

      A superb example of this is the fact that IBM is ACTIVELY fully supportive of Software Patents, and has even used what appear to be rather bogus ones (against a company which is using Linux, no less), in order to stifle the competition.

      I'm speaking about IBM's lawsuit last month against Platform Solutions. Here's one quote and link from a press article:

      "IBM's decision to sue Platform Solutions is another indication that the company is becoming more aggressive about defending its intellectual property in an effort to extract more revenue from its extensive patent trove." [informationweek.com]

      There are other links if you do a Google search; but it's pretty clear that IBM wants to keep this as quiet as possible.

      The point remains though, that IBM is being extremely agressive with Software Patents, against what appear to be Linux-based products. And anything IBM says about "improving the quality" is utter BS. Their priority is to improve the bottom line.

      Sorry if that pops some people's bubbles about IBM. There is no question that IBM has been helpful to the Open Source community. But it's quite clear that this only goes so far. And as long as they are actively working as a Patent Troll to stifle competition, IBM cannot be trusted.

      Let us hope that it doesn't go so far as submarine patents. But honestly, I've never seen a big company play nice out of the goodness of their heart yet, when it comes to their competition.

      IBM might have struck me as leaning that way before last month. But not any more.

      • BTW, when you say "schizophrenic", I say they're covering all the bases. And yeah, it's really annoying, but predictable if you consider they're trying to act in their best interests.
        • by btarval (874919)
          Perhaps. But that doesn't detract from the main point that IBM is using Software Patents to quash a Linux-based technologoy that they don't like.

          Or, in otherwords, IBM has decided to try and censore a Linux solution. Given how much they've contributed to the kernel, and how many patents they have, I personally find this frightening.

          If this is allowed to continue, I can't think of anything that they can't shut down which uses Linux. This is exactly what has been one of the key fears with the Novell/Microsoft
  • by TheWoozle (984500) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:13PM (#17565442)
    Poor IBM.

    I have an idea though: everyone will drop all their "bad" patents at the same time. On the count of 3. Ready? 1...2...
    • by muindaur (925372) *
      Think of it this way, if a company has to pay a license fee because of a patent, then the consumer also has to pay that fee since they need to recoup the cost. So if there is a patent out there for something that a company had been developing before the patent or release before the patent they will have legal fees or license fees.
    • everyone will drop all their "bad" patents at the same time.

      If everyone did that, the incredible mass of patent paperwork impacting the earth's surface simultaneously would produce a force so great as to shift the orbit of the planet! If you think CO2 causes climate change, wait'll you see what THAT would do!
  • by HappySqurriel (1010623) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:15PM (#17565464)
    From my very limited understanding of the situation, it seems like there is serious problem with the patent system because small companies patent everything to protect themselves from larger companies, larger companies patent everything to protect themselves from patent trolls, and patent trolls use the massive overworked system to get patents filed which will never be found by small or large coporations in order to sue for profit.
    • From the people actually driving the patent system (ie. US govt and the patent lawyers) there is nothing broken with this. Lots of applications (dumb or good, who cares) == lots of profits. Lots of litigation because of patent systems (dumb or good, who cares) == lots of profits.

      Any system will work the way that its owners intend. While the patent system is owned by the patent lawyers etc, you won't see any changes.

      If the patent holders (inventors) controlled the patent system then you'd see things work dif

      • This is untrue from the USPTO side of things. While the patent office does make money, they do not keep what they take in. Congress takes the fees collected and allocates less than that back to the agency. They are trying hard to remedy the back log and address the quality issues that have stemmed from the onslaught of 600,000 patent applications a year. The patent office does not have any vested interest in granting applications and would be better off if applicants were forced to actually give up on b
        • Of course the USPTO have a vested interest. If the applications reduced by 80% (all the crap patents) then the USPTO would need less staff and bring in less $$$ to US coffers. Do you think the director (or whatever) would get ego-buzz down at the counbry club if his staff was cut by 80% and they processed less applications.

          I really do think there's an industry-centric scam here. I have approx 10 or 12 patents (many of them crap) and in every case the examiners have kicked back with some stupid queries (noth

    • From my limited understanding the issue is with the parent company.

      "The parent's patent process is painful, potentially posing problems - probably profanities proceeding. Plus it places persistant pressure on profitability of primary com-petitors, pleasing the pre-mentioned parent. "

      Paul Pacer - President of Patent Pending
  • How about? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Umbral Blot (737704) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:15PM (#17565466) Homepage
    How about only allowing people to patent inventions that have cost money (resources) to bring into the world (i.e. prototypes, experiments, ect), and not inventions that anyone can "discover" simply by sitting down and thinking hard. (algorithems, formulas, ect)?
    • Never heard the expression "Time is money" ?
    • Re:How about? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mark-t (151149) <markt@l y n x . b c .ca> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:31PM (#17565668) Journal
      I agree with you in principle, but I think it's overly specific, and could be used to squish out the little guy (think: home inventor) from being able to come up with a patentable invention, since he may possibly use materials that are on-hand, and not have any real expenses.
      • No, the person in his garage is coming up with something tangible, the developer is mearly writing the instructions to do something.

        The order and arrangement of the instructions should be registered under copyright and not patent.
        • by ricree (969643)
          The order and arrangement of the instructions should be registered under copyright and not patent.
          Because using a system with an indefinite end point is a much better alternative. Say what you want to about patents, but at least they have a nice neat end date.
    • I think this is a bad idea, OMG someone think about the children!
      no seriousl though. There are a lot of bright kids with plenty of
      good ideas. I rarely see students with money to spend on inventions,
      tests, prototypes etc. They need to buy food, clothes, gas/water/elect.
      beer/etc. But they do have brilliant ideas...

      Your system would rule them out...

      just a thought...

    • How about only allowing people to patent inventions that have cost money (resources) to bring into the world (i.e. prototypes, experiments, ect), and not inventions that anyone can "discover" simply by sitting down and thinking hard. (algorithems, formulas, ect)?

      What you call "thinking hard" only costs nothing if your time is free. There are many algorithms that were only developed after very significant amounts of technical man-months were invested in research that ultimately led to their creation. And

    • by willy_me (212994)
      Thinking hard takes time and time is a valuable resource. One may not have to pay for it directly but it still has a significant opportunity cost that can't be ignored.

      Willy
    • And given we are mortal, it's a finite resource for any given individual.

  • by sygin (659338) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:18PM (#17565492)
    The patent system needs to be updated to reflect the world we live in now, not the world hundreds of years ago. There are many examples of patents holding back progress.

    Retina scanning is a typical example of this. One group/person holds most of the patents on this tech, how many times have you had your retina scanned? There is an only a few obvious methods to get the job done and the patent holder controls all of them. I guarantee that when those patents expire, we will have mainstream retina scanners everywhere.

    For a start:
    1. tech patents should have a shorter lifespan.
    2. Getting a software patent should be damn nigh impossible.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jrumney (197329)

      Retina scanners are not being held back by patents, they're being held back by the public's perception of retina scanning as being too invasive. I don't expect that will change when the patents expire.

    • You should not be able to patent business models or obvious solutions to common problems.
    • by kirils (1050022)
      Who wants they retina scanned anyway? It's more than enough that they copy all of your fingerprints and put them into the criminal FBI database.
  • by mandelbr0t (1015855) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:21PM (#17565528) Journal
    Sure, now that IBM has all the software patents they could ever need, they show others how to do the same thing. Of course, what this means is that IBM is pandering to an ever larger field of patentable technology through the normal process of cross-licensing (you license your patentable idea to me, and I won't charge you for X, which we already have a patent for).

    I'm glad they're being reasonable about the advice they're giving, especially about "not patenting a business process with no technical content", but they're already so far ahead that they can afford to be reasonable. I don't see patent reform on the horizon as a result; IBM has too much invested in the current system to take a really progressive stance on "Intellectual Property" ownership.

    mandelbr0t
    • by vadim_t (324782) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @07:24PM (#17566256) Homepage
      Or perhaps IBM is doing it out of need, not because they consider it the ideal situation.

      For example, you can at the same time spend a lot on home security and lobby the government to solve the crime problem. Security solves the problem now, but that doesn't mean you wouldn't prefer not to need it at all.

      So perhaps they patent so much because in the current situation it's what makes the most sense, but would prefer not to have to.
  • IBM wants to make it harder for smaller companies to patent business processes (or anything at all?) so that they don't get in the way of big companies patenting everything under the sun....
    • Re:Oh, I get it (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bryansix (761547) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:52PM (#17565914) Homepage
      This has nothing to do with it. IBM actually patents technology they research and develop. They are not patent trolls. IBM spends more money on R&D then almost any other company out there. They earned those patents. They just want to reduce the amount of patents awarded to people when they already have a patent on that technology. Then IBM has to waste money in court showing that the later patent should have never been awarded. It just makes sense both from a business and an ethical perspective. The Patent office needs to wake up and start scrutinizing applications more.
      • by shatfield (199969)
        The patent office's business is selling patents, and business is gooooooood.

        It'll be a cold day in the hot place when the patent office actually spends time researching whether or not a patent is valid. They'll leave that up to the courts to decide.

        It's just good business.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Dufftron 9000 (762001)
          The patent office does not sell patents. I know it is posh to dump on the PTO but you obviously have no idea how it works. The PTO is held by the laws and regulations written by congress and does not have the latitude to adjust the amount of time given to examine any particular case. If you want more time spent on a case, ask congress to give them more time. The USPTO would love to have time to exhaustively search each and every application, but with fewer than 8,000 employees and more than 500,000 new
      • The Patent office needs to wake up and start scrutinizing applications more.

        This is probably also why IBM wants a notion of quality in patent applications. From some of the patents I have read you get so lost in the "patent speak", that it is hard to tell what is really being patented - think of this in the same way of trying to read a product description chock full of marketing buzzwords and double-speak. After a couple of hours of decoding the language, you might end finding that the whole document is act
  • Yeah, right. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I've worked on the peripheral of their patents applications. Most of the ones I've seen are just solutions to specific problems. Meaning that anybody would come up with the same idea given the problem. So while they might not be considered obvious with a blank slate, given a need, the solution *is* obvious. The did a whole bunch of patents on remote distributed media and given the requirements of security and content management, nothing I saw wasn't an obvious solution, they all got accepted anyway.
  • If you want a change in the law, write your congressman.

    I think IBM is just trying to preserve its commercial freedom (to sign contracts with clients and to deliver solutions in accordance with those contracts).

    If you allow stuff to be patented, IBM has got to have lots of them.

    If you don't allow stuff to be patented, the cost of business will go down.

    • most folks = rowboat with a shotgun
      IBM = BattleShip New Jersey

      for most values of "ammo" IBM will always have the bigger gun (sorry TSCOG but you knew this when you started)
  • small companies (Score:2, Insightful)

    by micktaggart (1047954)
    Although small companies might be awarded the most patents per employee, I doubt they can actually defend their patents in court—they'll get their ass kicked immediately by larger corporations.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:41PM (#17565786)
    More and more people realize that patent clercs don't have the foggiest clue when it comes to the IT biz and start filing for ridiculous patents. Simply because it's been proven time and again that this is your way to big money for essentially no research. Just manage to get one of those trivial patents granted and you're set for life.

    Is there really anyone wondering why there's a backlog from here to Albuquerque? Hell, it's more profitable than frivulous lawsuits for spilled coffee or being a general moron but there was no warning label for it.

    If you want to solve this insane situation, reform the patent system. Now.
  • by schwaang (667808) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:50PM (#17565898)
    The final initiative is the Patent Quality Index which seeks to define a quantitative metric for the quality of patents.

    The article failed to mention that the metric will be a web-based distributed evaluation system, in which nerds in basements will view each patent and score them either "hot or not".
  • by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @07:30PM (#17566326) Homepage Journal

    As an IBM employee who has been through the internal patent vetting process, I can tell you that IBM isn't just spouting off about the importance of patent quality, IBM actually does try to ensure that it only seeks patent protection for really worthy ideas.

    A colleague and I (mostly him) came up with an interesting approach for quickly and accurately finding the subject's face in an photo taken for an ID card. The idea is that rather than having to carefully adjust the camera before taking the photo, or having to carefully crop the photo afterwards, it's much more efficient to have a fixed camera that covers a sufficiently large field of view that all subjects, no matter what size, will be in the image and then have software automatically identify their head within the image and crop and rescale to get an image of just the head, with the right size and aspect ratio.

    I'll admit that it's not any sort of blinding insight, but there were some very clever bits in the way my colleague made it work and made it fast. Not just algorithmic details, either, but some fundamentally good ideas. Further, after we'd implemented it we discovered that there doesn't seem to be another ID photo solution on the planet that works remotely as well. Most of them don't even try to automatically zoom and crop, and those that do suck at it. To the point the 80% of the time the user has to manually adjust the crop.

    So, since IBM offers bonuses for patents, we figured that it had enough novelty in it to be patentable, particularly given the crap that gets patented. We filled out the paperwork and got ready for the review board to rubberstamp our application, or maybe point out a few legal niceties that had to be corrected.

    They shut us down cold. "Not novel enough". "The usage may have some originality, but the basic ideas are all commonplace". "It's too obvious".

    They told us we could work on it and re-present if we wanted, but they were pretty clear that unless we found some more, better, newer ideas, IBM would not pursue acquisition of a patent on our invention. That impressed me, actually, even though I was disappointed to be missing out on the bonus.

    I can't say that *all* of IBM's patents are high quality. In fact I'd be surprised if a few dogs don't slip through. But IBM really does try ensure that it only patents real, novel, non-obvious inventions. Probably mostly to avoid paying any more employee bonuses than they have to, but the industry would clearly be a better place if more companies held themselves to the same standards.

    • I can't say that *all* of IBM's patents are high quality. In fact I'd be surprised if a few dogs don't slip through. But IBM really does try ensure that it only patents real, novel, non-obvious inventions. Probably mostly to avoid paying any more employee bonuses than they have to, but the industry would clearly be a better place if more companies held themselves to the same standards.

      I seriously doubt your bonus has anything to do with it. I suspect the amount of money that IBM would have to invest in p

    • Patents on obvious ideas are more profitable to a patent holder with a large army of lawyers than those on truly innovative ideas, because the obvious ones will be accidentally infringed by numerous parties and thus will provide more revenue from lawsuits and settlements.

      If something is innovative enough that people won't infringe it accidentally, but not super-innovative enough to make a profitable product out of it, it won't be worth patenting to them. Your idea probably was in that unprofitable middle g
    • maybe the new version is more patentable...
  • The cynic in me (Score:4, Informative)

    by gelfling (6534) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @07:42PM (#17566502) Homepage Journal
    Thinks that the IBM formal Patent program has become too cumbersome. Patent authors pass through a series of committees that either reject them or pass them on before they are ever considered for filing. If they were awarded 3700 patents then probably 20x that amount of submissions were made at the beginning of the process. Employees are awarded for patent submssions not patents. So this new rule will thin the submissions down greatly and will force most patent submissions to come out of the research areas. With fewer higher quality patents they'll have to do far less work to process them and will award far less in bounty money.
  • That's a good idea.
  • BULLSHIT. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    WTF.. IBM is complaining about frivelous/obvious patents?

    IBM has a friggin' patent on the wheel!

    THE WHEEL!

    Look it up if you don't believe me! "Vehicle Wheel", bitches.

  • Basicly require anyone who wants to patent something to demonstrate their patent. This could mean a working model. A prototype. A mockup. A set of blueprints as to how one would build a device incorporating the patented technology.

    In the case of a drug patent, you would be required to demonstrate plans on how the drug (or the active ingredients) could be produced.
    In the case of a gene sequence patent (such as a GM crop) you would be required to demonstrate either a working (i.e. growing in a lab) implementa
    • The patent office HAS this already, 4 years, 8 years, and 12 years after a patent is issued, fees need to be paid to keep the patent active.
      if a patent is not renewed, it goes into the public domain.
    • There is already a proper mechanism for this for software. It's Copyright .

      Software patents should simply be eliminated completely. As it is, they were originally snuck in under the guise of 'business process', and have no business being patents to begin with.

  • Companies like IBM normally require employees to file patents to keep their jobs, no matter how trivial they are. Now they're going to war against their own employees for filing trivial patents. What did they think was going to happen? Going to war against your own employees sounds like something an American company would do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hrvatska (790627)
      Companies like IBM normally require employees to file patents to keep their jobs, no matter how trivial they are.

      I know many, many long term IBM employees in technical positions who have never filed a patent. Filing patents at IBM is viewed favorably, but it certainly isn't a requirement for holding onto a job.
      • While filing patents is not a requirement to keep your job at IBM, many organizations within the company are starting to look for patents and IP when promoting people to senior technical positions such as Senior Technical Staff Member (STSM) and Distinguished Engineer (DE). One of the DEs in my division has even been pushing for it to be a requirement to obtain those positions in the future.
  • by YGingras (605709) <ygingras@ygingras.net> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @08:43PM (#17567190) Homepage
    Why would the public approve a single patent? Patents are never in the interest of the general public. Patents take away something from the public and give it to the inventor in hope that the inventor will publish more of his ideas.
    • Patents do NOT take something away from the public. What people seem to forget, is that the patent system ENCOURAGES people to publish their findings, sure .. short term they get an 'exclusive deal' on their idea, but after 20 years [from the application date mind you] its free game for anyone. People are also allowed to write improvement patents, where they improve on an existing patent, although the owener of the original patent might require licensing fees, of course - if your improvement totally makes h
      • by YGingras (605709)
        You misread me. If the invention are published for the review process you don't need to grant the patent to get the knowledge and in that case the public would be dumb to grant the patent. I'm not completely against patents; having a way to promote publication of inventions is a good thing. Obviously the current system is wrong: 20 years is too long and obvious ideas get patented. If the patent was valid for a shorter term the inventor would be more likely to try to push his idea into a working product
  • I blame theoretical physics for sapping the patent office of its brightest.
    • These days they would have said, "Sorry Albert, but your current job is a patent clerk and we're looking for somebody with current experience as a theoretical physicist".
  • These patents are more valuable than money, and with the treasure trove they have, they can't afford to have such a broken system that people might finally see the light and demand complete abolishment. It's not about reform. It's about protecting an investment.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by cbacba (944071)
      Patents aren't worth much unless you've got the resources to defend them in court. What they do is give one a legitimate reason to go to court. This concept predates the more modern version of court lawsuits that permit ostensibly poor people to sue ostensibly rich people/companies just because the people/company was in the general area when a wrong was done and well heck - the wrong doer didn't have enough resources to pay the lawyer and make the victim rich.

      Patent are necessary to have any standing in c
      • by iminplaya (723125)
        Patent are necessary to have any standing in court when another company attempts to steal the efforts and ideas of that which you worked and invested in to offer the world...

        Boiler plate arguments that don't hold water. Without IP law there can be no mega corporations. They would not ever be able to garner the undue influence they have almost precisely because of IP law. We have these things because we live under a government built in the coporations' image. We live under coporate law. And these laws exist
  • IBM set the record for most patents granted in a year for 2006.

    More proof that global warming exists, and is caused by man!

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