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IBM Wants Patent On Finding Areas Lacking Patents 151

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the all-for-me-none-for-you dept.
theodp writes "It sounds like a goof — especially coming from a company that pledged to raise the bar on patent quality — but the USPTO last week disclosed that IBM is seeking a patent for Methodologies and Analytics Tools for Identifying White Space Opportunities in a Given Industry, which Big Blue explains allows one 'to maximize the value of its IP by investigating and identifying areas of relevant patent 'white space' in an industry, where white space is a term generally used to designate one or more technical fields in which little or no IP may exist,' and filling those voids with the creation of additional IP."
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IBM Wants Patent On Finding Areas Lacking Patents

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  • by Loibisch (964797) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:52AM (#25193777)

    My head explodes at the sheer number of possible meta-jokes hidden here...

    • My head explodes at the sheer number of possible meta-jokes hidden here...

      That's OK, Mach5 took care of it [slashdot.org] for you!

      • by lorenzo.boccaccia (1263310) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:48AM (#25194455)
        question, if we could write a software to find out all the areas lacking patents and suggesting patents for that area/field, won't this render all the patents discovered by the software obvious for a person skilled in the area, as there is little to zero creative process involved?
        • "if we could write a software to find out all the areas lacking patents and suggesting patents for that area"

          The software would also recursively generate ever more patents as it searches the patent idea trees, until its patented everything and the value of all patents worldwide = $0.00

          Then again, if it was a really smart program, it would see it was undermining the value of patents by flooding the world with ever more patents and so it would then have to invent an entirely new patent system, which it co
          • That's it! I'm patenting the idea of granting exclusive-use rights of an idea or invention to an individual or group. I will then proceed to charge the US government $1 trillion/day for violation of my patent with their patent system. ...on second thought, I think I'll wait a few weeks after the patent is granted, then sue them for damages in addition to charging them fees for using my patent.

            --Ender
            (I know, I know: It's probably already been tried. Maybe I'll patent the idea of a bank instead.)

            • by LingNoi (1066278)

              I know, I know: It's probably already been tried.

              That's because you're doing it wrong. What you really want is the idea of granting exclusive-use rights of an idea or invention to an individual or group over the internet.

          • Kurt Gödel would like to patent device G, a device which can not be derived from the patents in the system, nor can be rejected on the basis of existing patents.

        • Except that non-obviousness is a condition of the solution, and not of identifying the problem.

          This process would identify research areas, not patentable results of that research. Everybody knows there aren't any teleporter implementations. That doesn't mean the inventor of a teleporter has created something obvious to someone skilled in the art. IBM is just hoping to identify gaps in research, by using patent volume as a proxy, and thereby use the results to pump money into research in those gap areas,

      • I never meta patent that I really liked, and this idea aint gonna change that.
    • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:07AM (#25193945) Journal

      "It is illegal to behave in an intelligent fashion without permission. We have articulated all the intelligent ways in which a human can behave that we are aware of, and you are not permitted to behave in any of these ways unless you have paid for the privilege. If you have no money, you are permitted to work like a slave in the employ of someone who has already paid. If you do not wish to do so, you are permitted to starve to death."

      According to our rulers, whom we may disagree with but still materially obey, this is progress.

      Incidentally, they also own the land, the sea, the skies, and your sorry ass. Better put your head down and get to work.

      Has anyone ever noticed that it's hard to eliminate an armed and active military force, and yet you can eliminate those who created the weapons with a brick and a rope?

      • by bcat24 (914105) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:22AM (#25194133) Homepage Journal

        Incidentally, they also own the land.

        Burn the land and boil the sea
        You can't take the sky from me

        • by keithius (804090)

          Incidentally, they also own the land.

          Burn the land and boil the sea
          You can't take the sky from me

          Nicely done. :-)

          • by bcat24 (914105)

            Nicely done. :-)

            Not really. :-(

            I screwed it up by quoting less of ShieldW0lf's post than I intended to. Oh well.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by ShieldW0lf (601553)

          Funny. Try to launch a plane, or a satellite, or set up a radio transmitter. See how quickly you get caged or shot.

          • Whoosh!


            I guess you never were much of a Firefly fan?
          • by Khyber (864651)

            Funny. Try to launch a plane, or a satellite, or set up a radio transmitter. See how quickly you get caged or shot.

            Turn in your geek card and go away if you can't figure out what the poster was referring to.

          • Funny. Try to launch a plane, or a satellite, or set up a radio transmitter. See how quickly you get caged or shot.

            On a serious note (though you missed the joke), I can hop in my GA aircraft and take off without asking anyone (from a non-towered airport). I can pretty much go damn near anywhere without checking with someone if it's nice out, and I don't run into Class A through D airspace.

            With regards to a satellite, if you launch it you've just got to let the relevant people know that you are launching. They don't get to say no.

        • by msormune (808119)
          Oh yeah? What about Highlander 2?
        • by Arterion (941661)

          I think that's only true if you have a space faring vessel. :p

    • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:19AM (#25194097)
      I say let them do it. If they can find a way to find the holes where no patents exist, then they've found a way to make 90% of patents instantly obvious. If an analytical tool can figure out that something can be patented, then there was no need for creativity or ingenuity, right?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zappepcs (820751)

        That's exactly what I was thinking. This is a patent end game 2 yard line play. Once it's obvious what patents don't exist, all patents are then obvious with or without prior art! Game over!

      • by Catil (1063380) *
        While that may be true, the public probably won't be informed that a pending patent was basically generated by a computer. Actually, looking at all those articles about ridiculously obvious patents here on Slashdot, they may be using it already.

        It kind of reminds me of that professor who wrote a program to automatically write books on any given topic. I don't know the numbers anymore but I think he released hundreds of books without anyone noticing (he didn't sell that much though.)

      • by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Monday September 29, 2008 @12:38PM (#25195009)

        That doesn't work. It may be obvious that patents don't exist, but it is not obvious what the patents that fill the space would be. There are probably few patents on time machines and matter transmitters. But knowing that doesn't tell me how to invent one to get a patent to fill the space.

        A bit like cryptography. I may have an encrypted message, and I may know which algorithm it was encrypted with, but the key is hard to find, and until I have it I know nothing.

        • And if they come up with a novel solution, then they should get a patent. However, if they identify something like the fact that there are patents on adjustable brake pedal height, and patents on using electronic sensors for brakes, but not a patent on using them together, well, that's obvious as soon as someone sees what the space is. Identifying a problem is part of finding a novel invention, and this program can show that the problem is an obvious one.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by nimbius (983462)
      i for one welcome our new super-patent overlords.
  • that's it, its time to patent the act of patenting. and then patent thinking about patenting things. and also patent every number up to a few hundred billion.

    • by Cassini2 (956052)

      Newsflash: This was IBM's effort to patent thinking about patents. They just patented a method of finding new areas that don't have patents.

      • Newsflash: This was IBM's effort to patent thinking about patents. They just patented a method of finding new areas that don't have patents.

        Newsflash: This is not a patent, it is an application for a patent.

        • Newsflash: I have the patent on newsflashes.

          I am currently seeking out other similar patents that would allow me to deliver quips with similar stunning terms, but if this patent goes through, I'll only be able to patent things that I haven't discovered.
    • And the process would never end, according to Godel's Incompleteness theorem...

    • and also patent every number up to a few hundred billion.

      You can't generally patent numbers. But you can secure copyright protection on them (e.g., the number encoded by the bits on a DVD of When Harry Met Sally).

      And you probably thought you were being hyperbolic...

  • Ingenious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kraemate (1065878) on Monday September 29, 2008 @10:59AM (#25193845)

    Isnt that called creativity or something?

    Can they really get a patent on that? Really? Wont this start an infinite cascade of similar statements?

    • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:13AM (#25194027)

      Basically what IBM wants is a patent that makes applying for a patent a patent infringement unless you pay them first.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Timosch (1212482)
        I can actually imagine IBM lawyers sitting in a room and laughing themselves to death after they files this patent...
      • No it doesn't. It makes it an infringement to, without license, write or use software that is based on the specific analysis algorithm IBM is attempting to patent.

        Nice FUD, though.

        • And a judge will be able to tell the difference because of what? Suing people for things your patents doesn't actually cover is standard practice.

      • Glad to see you got modded funny because your wrong. I had a read of it. It is quite interesting. From what I can gather it uses dictionary systems to analyze a product or functional area and cross references against disclosures existing and points to areas that may have potential IP.

        I can see it working in reverse as a way to look for existing prior art in your product to ensure you are not infringing.

    • Re:Ingenious (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:15AM (#25194061) Journal
      I'm can't expressly give my opinion of patentability, but I can say that there is a lot of case law on applications about filing patents (how, for what, automation, etc.) and none to my knowledge have gone through.
    • by dword (735428)
      No, it won't be infinite. The cascade will end when we find the one that can patented fire.
    • by Zarf (5735) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:43AM (#25194399) Journal

      Wont this start an infinite cascade of similar statements?

      And that's how we'll break the patent system. They'll get so caught up in recursive patents that they'll chew up all available resources in the US government eventually causing an out of memory error. The whole government will crash because there will be no space left for log files. The result will force a reboot of the US government.

    • First, you can't patent something that is already public knowledge. Since people have been inventing things for millennia, and patenting for centuries, this is an absurd fear.

      Second, just because you run to the patent office with your money in hand doesn't mean you get to patent 'the wheel' or 'automobiles' or 'the page down key'. In typical /. fashion, someone read the title and assumed that was a good summary of the patent. I don't know how many patents I've read with the title 'semiconductor device
      • "just because you run to the patent office with your money in hand doesn't mean you get to patent 'the wheel' or 'automobiles' or 'the page down key'."

        or "one click shopping", or linked lists. :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:01AM (#25193877)

    Intellectual Property suffers from the exact same problems the real property market does. It is another market that is artificially inflated. Wait and see it all crash and burn within the next 10 years.

    So when you see the word Patent simply think Mortgage Backed Security and you will understand

    The problem with patents is a great number of them are "junk" and worthless but no one has realised this yet. When the cat gets out the bag its gonna crash down.

  • The patent that invents itself.

    I wonder if IBM's next innovation will be programs that write themselves.

    Does a black hole get created when this happens? It seems like the universe would suffer a stack-overflow.

    • by HisMother (413313)
      > I wonder if IBM's next innovation will be programs that write themselves.

      Hells yeah, ever hear of MDA?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Nadaka (224565)

      We already have programs that write themselves (within limits). They are rather useful in the field of AI.

  • We're filing them all. Trust us. It will work ok. You just keep writing that stuff openly and let our lawyers take care of the paperwork...

  • by russotto (537200) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:11AM (#25194009) Journal

    It's useful. It's novel. It's non-obvious (at least to me, but I don't claim to be an expert).

    Unlike so many other business method patents, which fail the last two tests miserably, this one cuts through the implementation details and shows why the whole concept of a business method patent is fatally flawed. I doubt that's what IBM intended however.

    • Who knows, maybe they intend to let it discover un(der)-patented areas, to then fill them up with prior art to preclude patent trolls later on cashing in on obvious ideas.

      Meaning that just because you haven't had a problem yet, doesn't mean that its solution can't be straightforward when you do run into it, particularly since a lot of ideas build on previous ideas. It'd be a shame to find out that once you do, someone else pseudo-randomly generated a patent purporting to cover your implementation.

    • It's non-obvious (at least to me, but I don't claim to be an expert).

      People have been joking about patenting the "idea" to make patents. Although because they implement this a different way (by "finding ideas that are NOT patented yet"). They may still have a case...

  • by whisper_jeff (680366) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:14AM (#25194037)
    You have to love it when a common joke on Slashdot - that of patenting the process of patenting ideas - has finally come to pass. Reality has become a joke when a joke becomes reality.
    • by DrYak (748999) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:21AM (#25194125) Homepage

      Reality has become a joke when a joke becomes reality.

      Or to misquote Arthur C Clarke's 3rd Law :
      Any sufficiently advanced joke is indistinguishable from reality.

      (Or Maybe shall we say : Any sufficiently advanced reality is indistinguishable from a joke.)

    • You have to love it when a common joke on Slashdot - that of patenting the process of patenting ideas - has finally come to pass.

      Fortunately for us your above summary of the situation is dead wrong. This is an application for a patent and not a patent itself. We do get tons of crazy ideas that come in our offices here everyday and if every one of them became a patent it would be a crazy world.

      This application has around 2 years before it's even touched by an examiner and while there have been mistakes in the past (see Amazon one-click which did become a patent and then was repealed) I don't think you'll hear too much about this do

      • by ShinmaWa (449201)

        This is an application for a patent and not a patent itself.

        Even better then! It's an idea for patenting the process of patenting ideas!

        It'll be interesting to watch this snake eat itself.

    • by samkass (174571)

      You have to love it when a common joke on Slashdot - that of patenting the process of patenting ideas - has finally come to pass.

      In Soviet Russia, the process of patenting ideas patents you! If patents were cars, this would be like patenting blank areas on your road atlas. And does this patent application run linux?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nine-times (778537)
      The question I have is, did they use this method to discover that there was "whitespace" in this area of patents before deciding to try to patent it?
    • by Bogtha (906264)

      Reality has become a joke when a joke becomes reality.

      Next thing you know, Bush will end the long national nightmare of peace and prosperity, and Gillette will make a five bladed razor with two lubricating strips.

    • by labnet (457441)

      The Patent system is just showing the same signs as Americas current version of capitalism.
      ie.. huge greed and poor government oversight that eventually leads to the destruction of the whole system.

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      Actually, they seem to have patented the absence of ideas, which is to say, they've patented -- Nothing. ;)

  • !=Innovation (Score:2, Informative)

    by Xerolooper (1247258)
    After reading TFA it seems the patent application is about going back over things they have already made. Then if they don't hold alot of patents on it they try to find new ways of patenting it. In their mind trying to protect what they see as theirs. You see most new innovations have multiple patents. Take the case of item A, B, and C. A = 2 patents B = 24 patents C = 12 patents Under their suggested method they would identify A as an item that has greater potential to find new patentable features.
  • In Soviet Russia, white space patents YOU!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jbeaupre (752124)
      Uh, you might be more insightful than you think. Russians came up with an invention methodology by analyzing massive numbers of patents http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRIZ [wikipedia.org]. It's used mostly for finding solutions in those white spaces, but could be adapted to find the white spaces.
  • Maybe, just maybe if the USPTO grants this patent it'll open up an absurdity rift in the space time continuum and suck all existing and future software/ip patents into a temporal garbage heap where-they-belong. It's a long shot, but let's hope they can pull it off!
  • by 3seas (184403) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:30AM (#25194239) Journal

    ... actually this is not a bad idea so long as it is used to support open source rather than to stifle it.

    However, the idea of Open Source As Prior Art [linuxfoundation.org] being used to help just such a patent or use of such a process as this article is about. It shouldn't supprise anyone that IBM is a contributor to this OSAPA.... And IBM being a huge software patent holder.... uh errr FLOSS supporter...

    Apparently if you try to help improve the patent system and you support software not being patentable, you then risk screwing yourself.

    Stallman was right. The best thing to do is to ignore the patent system as it applies to software. OR Support "End Software Patents" [endsoftpatents.org], Or better yet help prove Software is not of Patentable nature! [abstractionphysics.net]

    This way mapping open source software for reuse becomes a clear benefit rather than a risk.

    I too was on the OSAPA list and contributed in support of open source.... as non-patentable Abstraction Physics.

  • It sounds like a goof â" especially coming from a company that pledged to raise the bar on patent quality

    Taking this approach with patents could be a strategy similar to how the FSF and EFF approach copyright. Stallman was offended by how copyright was being used to rob software of its freedom, so he developed a license enforced by copyright that could protect software freedom. EFF will, to the best of its abilities, enforce open licenses using copyright law to ensure those who incorporate copyrighted Free software is used as intended.

    Perhaps IBM has this in mind when patenting a process to find areas of "wh

  • It sounds like a goof especially coming from a company that pledged to raise the bar on patent quality.

    That IS raising the bar on patent quality. Golly, you have a lot to learn about how business works.

  • I want a patent on the generation of patents created by large companies. Top that, blue!

  • by 10am-bedtime (11106) on Monday September 29, 2008 @11:57AM (#25194559)

    around the lawyer-class necks we so desparately need?

    Someone crank up the rpms; this reality is ready to shatter.

  • ... its the licensing terms that matter. Go ahead, patent everything. But license it under GNU/OSS-like terms.
  • Just today, to my delight i found out that some chap in australia has patented the wheel [newscientist.com] back in 2001 and won the prestigious IgNobel Prize [wikipedia.org] for it too.

    Oh what other marvellous things have we forgotten to patent still, IBM will you enlighten us ?

  • So, they patented a method of figuring out what to patent. Well, I'm going to file for a patent on the method of getting patents on ideas concerning how to patent things. Or maybe even just cut to the chase, and get a patent on patenting methods of patenting ways to generate things to patent.

    Wait, can we just define this as a recursive function, and patent that, therefore patenting all conceivable levels of meta-patent-analysis in one fell swoop?
  • Namely to stop patent trolling once and for all.

    I'm all sure they're "just" a company too, but they indeed Think Different in a way that i can not yet fully grasp, but which shows. Everyone can clearly see that patent trolling (in the described form of "looky there's nothing invented here yet; let's make a patent, bring it through USPTO, do nothing with it and sue people to death") is not good for general business and the market as a whole.

    It definitely makes me feel a lot better that IBM has filed th
  • Is that this would be a patent on finding whitespace.

    Look, as an ethnic white person, our ethnosocial rights to our own space are under attack by IBM, the Big Blue.

    If this is allowed to go forward, the entire world will be blue, and then our meals will look really really yucky.

    Well, except for the blueberries. Those are good.

  • Simply ignore software patents.
  • Aren't I a clever multinational?

  • Won't fly unless they pay me royalties big time.
    I've allready patented the patenting of patents involving technologies that deal with patents.

    Yeah, I'm rich!

  • Of course, half of /. posts, elaborating how to patent patenting (for 4. Profit!!), might qualify as prior art...
  • If IBM were more bold, it would let this trifle go in lieu of richer fields of conquest. Why seek to patent the patenting of possible somethings when the known universe is teeming with so much less -- that is, with so much more of nothing?

    Today, there exists a great untapped opportunity that, for mysterious reasons, is still awaiting those pioneers who will man its papery frontiers: I refer, of course, to patenting ideas that do not nor ever shall exist. This area has been called "the ultimate white spa

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