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IBM "Invents" 40-Minute Meetings 161

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the that's-a-great-idea dept.
theodp writes "On Thursday, the USPTO disclosed that self-described patent reform leader IBM wants a patent covering its System and Method for Enhancing Productivity. So what exactly have the four IBM inventors — including two Distinguished Engineers — come up with? In a nutshell, the invention consists of not permitting business meetings to be scheduled for a full hour during certain parts of the day. From the application: 'The observation is that if an hour were shorter, by a small amount, we would be more focused, and accomplish the same amount of work, but in less real time, thereby increasing productivity.'" I just knew someone would one up my 43-minute-meeting patent. That's why I've already begun intense R&D on my latest invention: the 37-minute meeting! Register early for an early-bird discount. Register even earlier for more of one.
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IBM "Invents" 40-Minute Meetings

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  • I call 41 minute meetings. Nobody can have a meeting for 41 minutes because I already invented that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Burkin (1534829)
      I patented the 41 minute and 1 second meeting. You better make sure not to infringe my patent!
      • by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:42PM (#27883215)
        I patented the non-meeting. All group communication is now done by text messaging or twitter. Productivity jumped 140%.
        • Re:Mine Mine (Score:5, Insightful)

          by crispin_bollocks (1144567) on Friday May 08, 2009 @07:22PM (#27883527)
          My company is all about the non-meeting. It's not all you'd hope for, believe me. In general, having an agenda (rare thing in most companies) and someone to step through it (rarer) without trying to solve the world's problems can make meetings a thing that employees can handle without dreading boredom. No chairs, lots of whiteboards, and each victim standing in front of his/her own section is tremendously productive :-)
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by houghi (78078)

          I had almost the same idea. I just used facebook instead of text messaging and twitter. Productivity dropped by 140%.

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        Why can't someone patent stupidity? They'd be sure to make a killing. Can you imagine the amount of infringement notices that they'd have to file though?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by veganboyjosh (896761)
          Yeah, too much prior art, methinks.
        • by dimeglio (456244)

          Don't despair, I think patents expire. We will look back at this time 200 years from now and wonder "what were we thinking!"

          • Re:Mine Mine (Score:5, Insightful)

            by rackserverdeals (1503561) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:07AM (#27885281) Homepage Journal

            Don't despair, I think patents expire. We will look back at this time 200 years from now and wonder "what were we thinking!"

            Patents expire, but a lot of harm can be done until they do and IBM is no stranger to playing the patent extortion [forbes.com] game.

            The chief blue suit orchestrated the presentation of the seven patents IBM claimed were infringed, the most prominent of which was IBM's notorious "fat lines" patent: To turn a thin line on a computer screen into a broad line, you go up and down an equal distance from the ends of the thin line and then connect the four points. You probably learned this technique for turning a line into a rectangle in seventh-grade geometry, and, doubtless, you believe it was devised by Euclid or some such 3,000-year-old thinker. Not according to the examiners of the USPTO, who awarded IBM a patent on the process.

            After IBM's presentation, our turn came. As the Big Blue crew looked on (without a flicker of emotion), my colleagues--all of whom had both engineering and law degrees--took to the whiteboard with markers, methodically illustrating, dissecting, and demolishing IBM's claims. We used phrases like: "You must be kidding," and "You ought to be ashamed." But the IBM team showed no emotion, save outright indifference. Confidently, we proclaimed our conclusion: Only one of the seven IBM patents would be deemed valid by a court, and no rational court would find that Sun's technology infringed even that one.

            An awkward silence ensued. The blue suits did not even confer among themselves. They just sat there, stonelike. Finally, the chief suit responded. "OK," he said, "maybe you don't infringe these seven patents. But we have 10,000 U.S. patents. Do you really want us to go back to Armonk [IBM headquarters in New York] and find seven patents you do infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us $20 million?"

            After a modest bit of negotiation, Sun cut IBM a check, and the blue suits went to the next company on their hit list.

            IBM even tried to patent the patent protection racket [slashdot.org].

            And whenever something about IBM and patents comes up someone giddy over how IBM fought SCO in court says something stupid like it's just a defensive patent. IBM has a long history of being offensive with patents [newsweek.com].

            IBM set the standard for patent licensing in the early '90s. While Big Blue was in a steep decline, veteran employee and lawyer Marshall Phelps got the company to raise the fees it charged others for piggybacking on its ubiquitous technology. Phelps recalls that incoming CEO Lou Gerstner was skeptical of the program; at RJR Nabisco, he had been involved in a patent dispute with Procter & Gamble over soft chocolate-chip cookies. Phelps changed Gerstner's mind by cracking open an IBM PC and showing him all the components that came from other companies. In other words: hardware companies were interdependent, and as the biggest fish in the sea, IBM should exploit that fact. A few years, later IBM was raking in $2 billion a year of almost pure profit from licensing revenue.

            • Don't despair, I think patents expire. We will look back at this time 200 years from now and wonder "what were we thinking!"

              How did I miss that sarcasm? :(

      • If the person who wrote your patent application was any good, you wouldn't have claimed just a 41:01 meeting. You would have claimed all durations other than an hour. And you could sue all the copycats using 40:00 and 41:00 meetings.

        What IBM's application actually claims is the use of different meeting lengths at different times of the day and year. So it's not simply "40-minute meetings" but "40-minute meetings in the morning and 20-minute meetings near lunchtime and 90-minute meetings late in the afternoo

    • The Obvious... (Score:5, Informative)

      by pentalive (449155) on Friday May 08, 2009 @07:23PM (#27883529) Journal

      No one yet seems to have mentioned a 42 minute meeting as the perfect time. (for any time over 0, zero minutes is more perfect)

    • by linhares (1241614) on Friday May 08, 2009 @09:02PM (#27884227)
      is to expose by updating their wikipedia page, seriously, calmly, with proper references. That's what I'll be spending the next minutes on. See ya
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mysidia (191772)

      That's fine. I'm already working on my patent for meetings lasting 39 minutes and 59 seconds, and also meetings lasting 40 minutes and 1 second.

      Plus meetings of durations 00:00 42:00 43:00 44:00 45:00 4*:00 5*:00 **:02 **:03 **:04 **:05 **:06 **:07 **:08 **:09 **:1* **:2* **:3* **:4* **:5* **:6* **:7* **:8* **:9* 0*:** 1*:** 2*:** 3*:**

      By the time i'm finished, the fine folks at IBM are going to have to use an atomic clock to time their meetings, in order to ensure compliance and non-infringement of

  • And The Loser Is... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alain94040 (785132) * on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:27PM (#27883091) Homepage

    The only way to fight this epidemy is for some geek group (slashdot, techcrunch, whoever) to hold an annual lemon patent award to the most stupid patents.

    Finally, engineers and companies may be scared of receiving this award, with the attached bad publicity, and may think twice before submitting blatently stupid patents.

    --
    can we do Libre without Free? FairSoftware

  • Stand in front of the whiteboard. Guaranteed shorter meetings

    ~kulakovich
  • "I just knew someone would one up my 43 minute mtg patent." ...Actually we just had a meeting right now, you and me.

  • IBM Says (Score:2, Informative)

    by st3v (805783)
    No! No, no, not 37! I said 40. Nobody's comin' up with 37. Who has a meeting in 37 minutes? You won't even get your heart goin, not even a mouse on a wheel.
    • by spyowl (838397)

      "It's like you're dreaming about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time baby!"

      I just read the comments to this story to find this reference; and if not, to add one. That's classic. If you actually listen to that clip [youtube.com], it's relevant to this patent in more than one way. Classic.

    • by turing_m (1030530)

      These seats are makin' me itchy, man. What are they made out of, cactus?

  • Back in the early nineties, I worked for a sprawling company that... now that I think of it, was eventually purchased by IBM... but anyway, early on it was recognized that getting to your next meeting on time, if it was across campus, bordered on impossible. It was collectively decided that meetings would end at ten minutes before the hour to allow travel time.

    But I guess stranger things have been patented.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DrLang21 (900992)
      In all the places I've worked, meeting time allotments are only somewhat honored. For the most part, the meetings always take as long as they need to. About the only thing that can prevent a meeting from going into over time when not everything has been covered is when the group can't find a room to move to when they get kicked out by the next scheduled meeting.
  • by nixdroid (1482893) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:51PM (#27883289) Homepage
    I'm pretty sure that IBM invented meetings, so why not?
  • by Virtex (2914) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:51PM (#27883293) Homepage
    I generally prefer the 0 minute meetings. They're so short you don't even have to go. That way you can actually get real work done.
  • Bad summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:51PM (#27883297)

    Any Slashdot article that quotes from the abstract, background, or other parts of the disclosure of a patent application instead of the claims, which are the part of a patent application that actually counts, should automatically get tagged "badsummary".

    Oh, wait, that'd be all of them.

    • by MarkvW (1037596)

      RTF Patent Application instead of ineffectually whining.
      It's hilarious!!!

      People paid real money to get that shit filed!!!!!

    • Re:Bad summary (Score:4, Informative)

      by Zordak (123132) on Friday May 08, 2009 @08:13PM (#27883883) Homepage Journal
      I'm normally the first one up there with you saying all these rubes on /. are overreacting. But I read the claims, and they're actually WORSE than the summary. The first independent claim looks like "restricting meetings to a definite time." It doesn't even say 40 minutes. It's just a definite time restriction. Now granted, this claim won't be allowed, but ... wow.
      • Re:Bad summary (Score:5, Informative)

        by samkass (174571) on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:30PM (#27885079) Homepage Journal

        Actually, that's not what it says. By my reading, the patent is actually reasonably innovative. At least, I've never heard of any calendaring system doing it as described.

        What the claims of the patent say, in essence, is that the day should be broken down into schedule-able blocks of differing sizes configured by a system administrator. So if you have a 40 minute meeting, you can reserve the 40-minute block during that day and not the 30 or 60 minute block. Instead, most people today would say, "Well, it's going to run longer than 30 minutes, so I'll reserve an hour." I actually think I'd love it if Outlook operated in the way described in the patent instead of making it easiest to reserve meetings on 30 minute boundaries.

    • by bit01 (644603)

      Any Slashdot article that quotes from the abstract, background, or other parts of the disclosure of a patent application instead of the claims,

      So what you're saying is that the abstract is not a truthful abstraction of the contents of the patent? Ok, then why did the PTO accept a patent with an invalid abstract?

      ---

      Every new patent is a new law; another opportunity for a lawyer to make money at the expense of the wider community.

    • by PPH (736903)

      instead of the claims, which are the part of a patent application that actually counts,

      But the claims describe a generic electronic calendaring system. Many of which predate this application by years (decades). The background goes on to describe the 'advantages' of the proposed system which you 1) claim don't 'count', and 2) don't actually describe anything novel, as existing calendaring systems allow scheduling in user-definable blocks of time (they have for years).

      Obligatory bad car analogy: I could write up a series of claims describing round objects, 'wheels', upon which a vehicle might

    • The link gets you the claims if you want them. But claims are hard to grok. I'm writing up my own patent application right now, I have a good book to guide me, and I still can't quite make sense of how claims work. They can be confusing because they look like a list of dozens of things being claimed as inventions, when in fact some of the list items are combined with Boolean AND's. Plus, they're written so broadly that it takes a lot of imagination to realize what specific embodiments they have in mind.

      The

      • The link gets you the claims if you want them. But claims are hard to grok. I'm writing up my own patent application right now, I have a good book to guide me, and I still can't quite make sense of how claims work.

        This is why I get billed out at $275/hour for writing claims. Most important is not just writing claims that get allowed, but getting claims that have value in the future. You can write super specific claims, with formulae in them, and likely get them allowed... But to get around your patent, a competitor just has to change a few small bits in ways that aren't obvious, and they're no longer infringing.

        The real lesson is this: don't consider any opinions on patents on Slashdot to have any value in reality,

  • I am incredulous at this patent. When you get to [49] you realize you've been reading bloviated shaggy dog joke. Could IBM have a few smartass Slashdotters working in Engineering? My last thought is some engineers in between projects needed to work on something and this was it.
    • My guess is that there must be some reward system in place. IBM claims to the GRAND title of having the most US patents EVAR!!!1!eleven!!! That's why I just happily update their wikipedia page. [slashdot.org]
    • I am incredulous at this patent. When you get to [49] you realize you've been reading bloviated shaggy dog joke. Could IBM have a few smartass Slashdotters working in Engineering? My last thought is some engineers in between projects needed to work on something and this was it.

      Yep, despite the image, IBM is as full as smartass programmers (and, of course, their pointy-haired nemeses, but no one doubted that) as any technology company. IBM (or a divison, anyway) is likely on one of its periodic pushes to co

  • Patent madness (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JSG (82708)

    IIRC (IANAL) a patent can be (in a simplistic sense) granted for a business process but is invalidated if "prior art" can be demonstrated. I also believe that an "obvious" invention is invalidated as a patent.

    How on earth does this even get accepted for inspection?

    Does this story even need debating? Is it conceivable that the patent will be granted? (in the US or anywhere else). This last question I'd love to be answered by someone who is an expert in this sort of thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      Have you looked at the patent application? See if you can look at it for more than 10 minutes without screaming out in pain and horror. Would you want to have to read those things every day eight hours a day as your job? I sure wouldn't. I would take a significant pay cut to work in some other place. They would have to pay me $200k before I would consider working at that job. So what kind of people do you think end up inspecting patents? I feel sorry for them. It's not a job that should be inflicted
  • Silly (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eln (21727) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:54PM (#27883327) Homepage

    Scheduling a meeting for 40 minutes is useless, because the meeting will just end up going overtime by 20 minutes most of the time. The secret to a quick yet productive meeting is to have a well-prepared, well-organized moderator who is able to get to the pertinent facts quickly and cut down on extraneous chatter.

    Unfortunately, those people tend to be rare, at least in my experience. I can have a meeting that runs 20 minutes, and another that runs 90 minutes, and the 20 minute one will be more productive because the leader of that meeting is able to stay organized and keep control over the conversation.

    If you schedule a lot of meetings back to back that are each 40 minutes, they may all end at 40 minutes as people start to leave to get to the next meeting, but without the aforementioned leadership, they'll just be 20 minutes less effective than the hour-long meetings you used to have were.

    • Meeting Moderators (Score:2, Interesting)

      by elpostino (631110)

      Unfortunately, those people tend to be rare, at least in my experience.

      They are! I worked for a firm that did a lot of government engineering. Our meetings lasted a maximum of 42 minutes (we had to account for all of our time in 6 minute increments) and any meeting with more than two other people required a meeting moderator. Since we only had a couple of meeting moderators for 3000 engineers we had few, but very productive meetings.

    • by AlpineR (32307)

      Scheduling a meeting for 40 minutes is useless, because the meeting will just end up going overtime by 20 minutes most of the time.

      I can have a meeting that runs 20 minutes, and another that runs 90 minutes, and the 20 minute one will be more productive [...] .

      If you can do it, why can't anybody else? Maybe the shorter schedule will help the meeting leader keep the other members on track. It's one thing to have the leader want to be productive and brief; it's another thing to have everybody else aware of th

  • Why do people think meetings must fill the allotted time? The start time is when you meet. The "end" time is the limit, after which you're free to have other engagements. But if you get everything accomplished early, why babble away for the remaining minutes?

    You can't demand productivity. If you're not being productive anymore, meeting over.

    Does anyone have meetings that actually operate like that? Do they work?

    • another option: schedule the meeting at the very end of the day. can't get things done quiclky, get home late.

      or does their patent include this, also?

  • There is some value for the idea that business meetings can suffer simply because of the mechanics of how they are scheduled. Hour long meetings often are not optimal, workers will find ways to fill the time or not adequately address issues because of the artificial time restriction.
    Also, Participants tend to be more rigorous about the length of the meeting, and less about the length of subtopic discussions. Perhaps scheduling topics as "micro-meetings" will help maintain discipline.
    While not really to
  • IBM means "more and stupider".
  • Meeting time length really isn't the problem, usually meetings are a useless waste of time because they either don't need to exist in the first place or get pulled in new directions that serve no purpose.

    1. Define objectives
    This gives attendees something to prep and sets expectations.

    2. Be the Shepherd
    You must pipe up, directly and unceremoniously, when a meeting is becoming off track, record new meetings that must occur "offline" even if they aren't your own.

    3. Meeting must create a product
    The product coul

  • by rts008 (812749) on Friday May 08, 2009 @07:07PM (#27883409) Journal

    'The observation is that if an hour were shorter, by a small amount, we would be more focused, and accomplish the same amount of work, but in less real time, thereby increasing productivity.'"

    [my emphasis]

    This could have only come from some PHB/MBA marketdroid.

    My bad! Maybe they are asking to be thrown into the event horizon of a black hole???

    We have sacrificed many things to achieve IP(Imaginary Property) as a viable 'business model', but trying to redefine physics to artificially 'manipulate' time is just too much for anyone with more than a shoe-size IQ!

    Or has Physical Sciences/Quantum Physics been redefined and subverted to become part of the MBA curriculum for PHB's?
    Solutions?
    In the time honored /. tradition, I propose:

    We need to exhume all of our deceased scientists, wrap them in wire, and re-bury them inside of a magnetic coil==end of 'free energy' problem.
    Damn, wrong format...correction:
    revised
    1. exhume and 'wire-wrap' all scientists, and re-bury inside of magnetic coil.
    2. connect 'wired scientists' to MBA curriclum
    3. ????
    4. Profit!!! with unlimited 'free energy!!!'

    This has to be the saddest thing I have seen in quite some time...for it to be entertainable enough to actually make it to the 'front page' of anywhere, including /., to link to it!

     

    • by s4m7 (519684)
      I think it's fair to say that the only reason it's on slashdot is because it's a patent troll... not because anyone actually thinks it's a neat idea.
  • . . . "please submit your calenders to IBM, so they can check if you have used a patented method in your scheduling."

    ???

  • Read this "race to the 1 minute meeting" reminded me of this old joke...

    Every program has at least one bug.

    Every program can be reduced in size by at least on line.

    Therefore, every program can be reduced to a single line - which is a bug.

    --

    Every meeting is way to long
    Every meeting can be reduced by one minute
    Every meeting can be reduced by one minute - which is too long.

    • by omnichad (1198475)
      I can write a two-line program in assembly with no bugs. It won't do much, but what it does wouldn't be a bug.
  • To improve productivity at meetings all participants shall omit the use of articles(the, an, a) and conjunctions(and, or, but, etc) from their speech.

    I am still researching a method for only using acronyms to communicate in meetings so we can compress many complex ideas down to 3 simple letters.

  • Dilbert said it. I believe it. That settles it.

  • No...not six, I said seven. No one's coming up with six. Who works out is six minutes? You won't even get your heart going, not even a mouse on a wheel. Sevens the key number here. Think about it. Seven doors. Seven-Eleven. Seven. Seven little chipmunks twirling on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' of gorgonzola when it's clearly bree time baby. Step into my office...cuz you're fuckin' fired!

    • by s4m7 (519684)
      This is the quote I came to this thread looking for. I can now rest easy, knowing /. is safe. ... for now.
  • When I worked at the RI Sec State's office meetings were an inevitable waste of time. We utilized project management software, blogs, wiki's, intranet pages, full telecom systems, etc. But we still had mind numbingly boring meetings.

    It got to the point where I'd arrange to be somewhere else when I knew a meeting was scheduled.

    If there is one thing I absolutely abhor it is organizations where seat time matters.
  • I'll patent those chimps on typewriters and claim any and all potential derivative works.
  • I believe that Cabletron had that rule 20 years ago, along with no chairs in the room (sitters were fired).
  • by sprior (249994) on Friday May 08, 2009 @09:46PM (#27884483) Homepage

    When I first started at IBM the company accounted for employee time in 1/10 hour (6 min) increments, so the IBM way would be for 36 or 42 minute meetings, 40 minutes is unthinkable!

  • The Junior High School I attended in the 1970s (Bingham Junior High in Kansas City, MO) had "modular scheduling" in 20 minute increments, some classes were 20 minutes, some 60 minutes...and some 40 minutes.
  • Register early for an early-bird discount. Register even earlier for more of one.

    you are illegally using my patented invention of granting a discount for early purchase or registration.

  • by bakes (87194) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @03:36AM (#27886423) Journal

    The same thinking can be applied elsewhere - the first thing that comes to mind is television shows. A full 1 hour show sees me either dozing off or losing interest. If they could shorten the show to... I dunno... maybe 43-46 minutes, I would find it much easier to pay attention all the way through.

    Sure, they would have to cut out some of the current content, but I'm sure these clever television people could find a way to make that work.

  • by jonatha (204526) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @06:15AM (#27887087)
    My first meeting should be finished sometime today.
  • Ok, the patent madness aside - yes, please.

    My company, and probably almost every other company like it, is suffering tremendously from the stupid, idiotic, short-sighted, totally impractical meeting scheduling that's built into Outlook.

    The simple fact that Outlook not only allows, but encourages you to plan a meeting on the 2nd floor from 9 to 10 and a meeting on the 6th floor from 10 to 11 - that fact alone guarantees that people will be late for the 2nd meeting.

    A good meeting schedule - and everyone who's

  • They pioneered this with Lotus Sametime - it takes 20 minutes worth of screwing with the software to get screen-sharing to work, automatically reducing an hour meeting to 40 minutes.

  • At the end of the day. Having a meeting moderator that establishes a clear meeting agenda, prepare the necessary meeting fora, moves the meeting along and keep it on track is the key of the effective meeting. Otherwise, 40min meetings would just stretch into 1hr plus meetings that don't accomplish anything, just like regular 1 hr meetings

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