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IBM Calls for Patent Reform 292

daria42 writes "IBM has called for tighter regulation of patents and a review of intellectual property ownership issues in collaborative software development. The company is one of the largest patent-holders in the United States. IBM executive Jim Stallings said examining patents for prior art should not only be the job of the patent office but that the wider community should be involved. Stallings also called on the industry to stop what he calls "bad behaviour" by companies who either seek patents for unoriginal work or collect and hoard patents."
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IBM Calls for Patent Reform

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  • by foobsr ( 693224 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:03AM (#12199246) Homepage Journal
    ... is that "they" have quite a wide scope of view.

    Presumably a prerequisite for "culture" in general.

    • Is this a troll? Can I call bullshit? IBM is itself was a mafioso-like offender of patent strategy. They have been known to go to a company armed with their patent arsenal saying: "you are violating a through z" forcing a company to do an exhaustive time-consuming, money-spending investigation. A company eventually ends up paying IBM what amounts to "protection money." The following statement from RTFA should tell you give you some hints about their continuing practices:

      IBM was granted 3,248 patents
      • OK, let's dissect your post a bit.

        IBM can only force a company to determine if it is infringing one of their patents by bringing suit against them. To bring a lawsuit, they must list the patents they think are being infringed in the filing. If the company being sued ends up paying anything to IBM that implies that they _were_ infringing at least some of the patents in the lawsuit.

        IBM would be breaking the law if they failed to use a patent which they knew could be profitably used -- publicly traded comp
    • I work for IBM... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2005 @12:57PM (#12201938)
      ...therefore I will post this anonymously.

      It is harder to get a patent through the IBM internal review process (which you have to complete before Legal will consider filing it) than it is to get the USPTO to take it. A team of other IBMers (usually inventors themselves) ensure that it is innovative and possible. The revenue possibilities are also considered.

      I've put 11 ideas through the process, all of which I am reasonably sure would have been granted by the USPTO, and only 1 of those has been applied for. Three were thought worth protecting but not patenting -- they are published on the prior art database to prevent anyone else patenting them.

      If all corporations handled patents as responsibly as IBM we wouldn't have a problem.
  • by bigtallmofo ( 695287 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:06AM (#12199257)
    It seems IBM's argument is that there are way too many patent applications being submitted to accurate evaluate them. Their solution:

    IBM's antidote to the problem is to increase the scope of the investigation into 'prior art' associated with software patents. Stallings believes that sort of undertaking is something the academic community, volunteers and others are willing to help in.

    Something obviously must be done to fix this problem but I'm not sure how the proposed system would work. As soon as "volunteers" have the ability to submit prior art challenges to patent applications, you'll likely see as many or more prior art challenges than patent applications. Who's going to evaluate the prior art challenges AND the patent applications then?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:07AM (#12199268)
    By making their patent on patent reform available for a small fee.
    • Re:IBM is helping (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LaCosaNostradamus ( 630659 ) <LaCosaNostradamu ... m ['mai' in gap]> on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:14AM (#12199633) Journal
      Makes you wonder, doesn't it? I speculate that IBM -- long used to being the patent holder of record -- is finding out that the very patent sytem that it took advantage of by "patent app bombing" is coming back upon them. They may be doing too much cross- or outright-licensing with other patent holders. (I'm sure IBM expects people to license patents from TEHM, not the other way around.) And I also speculate that IBM is finding out the overhead costs of patent investigation are rising, since the approval system is a rubber-stamp machine that doesn't adequately evaluate patent validity.

      I have few illusions that IBM is doing this latest protest out of the goodness of their tiny, shriveled, black hearts.
  • by MarkEst1973 ( 769601 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:08AM (#12199272)
    Prior art research open to the community would dramatically reduce the number of ridiculous patents [] granted.

    And what about going back to the good ol' days when you had to provide a basic working implementation of your potentially patented thingie, instead of just having an idea [] of what may work in the future?

  • by ph4s3 ( 634087 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:08AM (#12199273)
    Hello, kettle. This is pot. You're black.
    • hehehe exactly. Largest patent owner in the world thinks there should be reform...

      So ... what ... big companies shouldn't file OVER 10 PATENTS A DAY?

      • Re:Hello kettle... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bmw ( 115903 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:14AM (#12199304)
        Largest patent owner in the world thinks there should be reform...

        This is EXACTLY what we need to happen. These are the types of companies that actually have the ability to change things. The fact that they happen to hold a lot of patents themselves and still want reform just adds more weight to the argument that the current system is fscked.
      • Maybe, if your such a big company and actively have researchers doing things, then maybe, just maybe those 10 patents are actually justified.

        They are wanting to rid the world of rediculous patents, not totally shutdown the patening process.
        • Re:Hello kettle... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) < minus punct> on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:20AM (#12199333) Homepage
          Have you performed a patent search in the last 15 years? ...

          People patent basically anything. I'd be surprised to learn that LibTomCrypt didn't violate at least a half dozen patents. Heck the kernel probably violates a good dozen or more.

          Companies like MSFT and IBM patent every itty-bitty thing they do in the hopes of using it to crush competition. Oh, we put the chip on at an angle, must patent that because it will give us a 0.00001% market boost!! yes!!!

          • Companies like MSFT and IBM patent every itty-bitty thing they do in the hopes of using it to crush competition.

            You're certainly correct that large companies like Microsoft and IBM patent anything and everything they can but the reason for this is usually less malicious than you think. Most of the time these companies try to attain so many patents as a defense mechanism. The hope is that by holding enough patents they will be able to deter other companies from using their patents against them out of fear
            • Largely I ignore patents alltogether when I'm writing software. My logic being ... if *I* wrote it, it must be common knowledge. ;-)

              But the sheer number of patents just renders them useless and the only ones to turn a profit are patent farms and lawyers..

  • by bmw ( 115903 ) * on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:09AM (#12199283)
    "There are others who believe that no software patents are valid," he added. We certainly don't believe in that, because we have many thousands of software patents and customers trust us to be the true owners of those, so we believe it is somewhere in the middle that is appropriate for laws to govern behaviour around patents."

    It's nice to see a large company choosing the middle path. Patents aren't entirely a bad thing (although I would rather do away with them altogether than keep the current system) and as with most arguments there are certainly two or more legitimate sides to this. One thing is for sure, we definitely need better review of patents and it certainly seems to me that they are right about the community being willing to help find prior art.
    • by MrRTFM ( 740877 ) * on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:21AM (#12199335) Journal
      Yes, IBM is trying really hard to be 'the nice guy' this last decade - this is a good thing.

      But let's not forget that they also make billions (this is also a good thing). I think they realise the whole is going to end up in a mexican standoff - a lot of companies having stupid patents for stupid components of an application, and all it will take is one rogue company / individual with a critical patent who doesnt want to play ball, to cause some serious problems.

      We would probably all love to see silly software patents abolished or even limited for 12 months or something.
  • by NZheretic ( 23872 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:12AM (#12199297) Homepage Journal

    On February 24, 2005 [] I tried to pose some questions to USPTO [] On-Line chat for Independent Inventors today, however the digichat java applet does not appear work with any combination of Linux Galeon/Mozilla/Firefox jdk1.5.0/j2re1.4.2_07 or MacOSX Firefox/Safari. Here is what I tried to ask:

    I understand that the discovery of prior art and the evaluation of the obviousness of an invention are difficult tasks for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent application examiners to perform. The percentage of patents being overturned under the scrutiny of the courts leads me to believe that the process is not quite as accurate as could be desired. In a few recent cases the existence of publicly accessible digital content has played a part in disclosing prior art. The public, technical and scientific communities use of Internet has to a large extent replaced printed media such as journals for the public disclosure of new ideas. To what extent does the current USPTO patent application examination process take into account public accessible website content? Do the patent examiners currently use Internet search engines such as Google ( [] ) to locate instances of prior art? Is the changeable and unverifiable nature of some digital content a barrier to its being cited as prior art in the patent application examination process?

    The USPTO patent application examiners task could be made more reliable if the examiners could consult one or more public online registries that document cases of prior art and public discoveries. The online registries could provide a means for the public to retroactively point to cases of preexisting prior art for pending patent applications and a means to proactively document publicly known ideas and concepts. Although websites and digitally stored content in general is changeable, individual entries and changes in an online registry could be legally authenticated by means of digital timestamping ( 7 []). An online registry could be hosted by the USPTO as an adjunct to the existing online public patent and patent pending databases. The USPTO could also publicly recognize other individual registries hosted by third parties such as a commercial entity or a non-profit community similar to Wikipedia ( [] ). An individual adding an entry to such a publicly online registry does not involve granting that individual any form of monopoly, therefore the action need not have any artificial barrier involving fees or payments. Would the existence of digitally timestamped public content overcome any objections by the USPTO to its citing as prior art? Has the USPTO any plans to add some form of publicly accessible feedback mechanism to the patent application process?

    It has been nine years since the USPTO updated the Guidelines for Computer-Related Inventions ( ware/analysis/computer.html [] ). Since that time has the USPTO undertaken, commissioned or evaluated any studies on the effects that granting software related patents has had on the progress of science, useful arts and the software industry in general? If no such study has been performed or evaluated, why not? Can the USPTO point to any instances where the granting of software related patents has been an actual benefit to the progress of science, useful arts and the software industry in general? In a similar vein, can the USPTO point to any instances where the granting of business method related patents has been an actual benefit to the progress of science, useful arts and industry in general?

  • by bardothodal ( 864753 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:13AM (#12199298) Homepage Journal
    I thought IBM had more patents than any other entity. What does it say when the wlfe complains the hen house is too wide open?
    • by guardian alpha ( 869711 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:33AM (#12199390)
      The very fact that IBM does indeed have a ton of patents, yet still wants tighter reviews over patenting procedures and improvements over the current guidelines means that they are even looking towards their own current patents.

      It would be one thing for a company without patents to scream "The patent system is screwed!!! fix it!", leaving everyone calling that company a whiner.

      But it another thing when a company with tons of patents says the exact same thing, even if the reformation change can hurt them. This means they are willing to take losses of their own for the benefit of the patent process.
      • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:08AM (#12199591)
        Also (AFAIK), IBM tends not to file patents if they dont think they will hold up in court. And they dont do nasty tricks (like submarine patents). Plus, they did just give a whole bunch of patents (microprocessor and chipset related I think) to the Open Source community. And remember that IBM is not just a software company (they do make computers, microprocessors and other stuff too) and that IBMs patents cover those areas as well as their software development.

        On the other hand, some (like Microsoft) patent anything and everything just because the patent system is so screwed up that they can.

        By far the biggest supporters of the current stuffed system would have to be Microsoft (who are tyring to find something they can use to bring down Open Source Software like the Linux kernel, Apache, GCC etc that wont get them in anti-trust hot-water) and Sun (who want too let people mess with Solaris so that sun can get a better operating system out of it but who dont want all the "good bits" or "patented bits" ending up in projects like the Linux Kernel)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:15AM (#12199306)
    I work for IBM.

    Mod me up!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:15AM (#12199307)
    To: All pro-software patent lawyers inc. IBM's and Carl Oppedahl []

    Dear Patent Lawyers,

    Could you please justify by reply in moderate detail the supposed net benefit to society (rather than just to corporations) of software patents explaining why you think that extending the patent system to cover software is not harmful both to society and to freedom of expression given the case of an open-source software developer who, as a result of
    • working unpaid on his/her project as a hobby
    • giving his/her inventions away freely for the benefit of society ,
    • i.e. without any project income,
    • without any corporate project sponsor to pay legal fees,
    • without sufficient personal savings or income to pay for even a brief consultation with a "cheap" patent lawyer, and
    • without a patent lawyer prepared to work pro bono,

    is threatened with a patent lawsuit by a corporation demanding he/she removes the allegedly infringing software from the project's website, leaving the impoverished developer with no real choice but to comply with the demand and close the project?

    One recent unresolved case, which is not unique, is that of the German mathematician and open-source software developer Helmut Dersch who had no financial choice but to remove his software from his project website. He had no money to pay for a patent application at the time of his own inventions, which pre-date the patent application of the IPX company , to to pay for a lawyer to challenge the company which threatened him with the prospect of a lawsuit.

    Here [] is a summary of the case history.

    I hope you will take the time to reply at moderate length for the sake of explaining to the open-source developer community why software patents are not a threat to completely unfunded open-source projects.

    Thank you for reading this. If you are a patent lawyer, please mention that fact in your reply here.

    Last posted here [] without a reply from any patent lawyers reading slashdot.

    Please copy and re-post this message in all available forums until at least one patent lawyer has the courtesy to write a thorough reply.

    • by Wolfbone ( 668810 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @10:01AM (#12199945)
      "Could you please justify by reply in moderate detail the supposed net benefit to society..."

      That's far enough - there's no need to even mention open source or free software projects: the onus is on those who are proponents of software patents (or any other kind of patent) to show that they promote progress in the sciences and useful arts. It must be demonstrated by them that the overall effect is beneficial in each area of technology and in each industry to which the patent system is applied.

      Patent attorneys and others will always try to hoodwink us into believing all kinds of nonsense about the patent system. They use words and expressions like "protection", "intellectual property" and "theft" to mislead people into believing that a patent represents some kind of tangible entity over which people have natural rights. But we should never forget what a patent really is: a government granted 20 year monopoly right to exclude everyone else other than the patentee from freely using some idea, whether they came up with it independently or not. Unlike a copyright, it is a kind of officially sanctioned and enforced removal of rights from everyone else and in the case of software patents it is a serious infringement of the tangible property rights of millions of computer owners.

      Extraordinary interventions in the free market, that even entail curtailment of natural rights and liberties, demand extraordinary justification.
      • by ites ( 600337 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @10:50AM (#12200405) Journal
        I'd add that patents on ideas that are highly likely to be reinvented by other teams are also highly likely to be unoriginal - with or without prior art.

        Patents on such ideas do not just curtail the economically-sound interchange of such ideas in the future, they actively remove people's rights to the fruit of their own labour, the copyrighted works they produce independently.

        A broad software patent can, at a stroke, turn a life's work into something with no value. Unlike patents on physical inventions, this is not unlikely... in fact it's going to become more and more common to hear about such stories.

        The patent offices are, basically, in a corrupt symbiosis with patent lawyers, stealing ideas from the "commons", and turning the real inventors into peons. It's a classic abuse of the "tragedy of the commons", in which corrupt officials argue that the commons need "their protection" when in fact there is a well-functioning economy already in place.

        It's much expropriating property - someone's house, or a park, or public lands - for business reasons.

        Parkinson's law: officialdom will always expand to consume its budget. In the case of the patent offices, the budget is limitless.

        The patent offices, and the patent lawyers, are IMHO the real villains of the affair. I am quite surprised that no-one has yet launched a lawsuit against the USPTO for larceny.

        I don't think you will get many useful replies from the patent lawyers who read this.
    • IAAPL (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:55AM (#12201152)
      IAAPL. You should be arguing that patents in general do more harm than good.

      Why should software authors have to worry less about patents than independent mechanical designers, chemists, or electrical engineers?

      What's the difference between your hypothetical and a guy who designs a new engine on paper, proposes a new synthesis on paper, or sketches a new circuit on paper, and posts it on the web, whereupon some third party company picks it up and mass produces it, and the guy is threatened for inducing patent infringement (yes, there is such a thing)?

      There is not much difference. I have heard the arguments that say software is special for various reasons, but you have to have already drunk the koolaid to buy them.

      Remember, if you want to take the position that patents in general are bad, that's a very legitimate position.

      But there is very little that is special about software patents. All inventions are mere conceptions, and it's all done on paper (except for drugs, which have their own ethics/cost/benefit problems).

      Just FYI, in the U.S., there is a special "personal use" escape clause for "business methods" (which would be most algorithm/data structure type things). It is insanely worded and also limited. 35 U.S.C. 273. You probably want to know how that works. The same kind of "prior user" defense exists in more rational form in many countries.

      I'm sorry. I can accept that patents in general may harm the penniless dreamer. But software is not special, and there is no credible reason to exclude it. The (unproven) net benefit is the same as it is with all other technologies(a disclosure for exclusivity bargain).

      Freedom of expression - a red herring. Free speech is a very good reason to restrict copyright, especially for artistic works. However, software was treated as "expression" as a convenient legal fiction to shoehorn it into the existing copyright laws. But really, that makes no sense. You can't argue simultaneously that an algorithm is both a discovered law of nature and unique personal expression.

      In summary, patents *are* a threat, but a 200-year old one that every other kind of technology has had to deal with. The reason to change is that the disclosure isn't doing anyone any good, so we (society) are giving something (a patent) for nothing (a worthless disclosure). That is not unique to software.
      • Re:IAAPL (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Wolfbone ( 668810 )
        Why should software authors have to worry less about patents than independent mechanical designers, chemists, or electrical engineers?"

        Because the patent system in the case of software often imposes the largest costs in the whole process, amounting frequently to an absolute barrier to innovation. Patents are obviously not meant to do this and where the capital and marginal costs of bringing innovations to market are significantly greater than the burden of the patent system itself, the extra burden may b
  • IBM Linux? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:15AM (#12199310) Homepage
    IBM is really doing the industry a good job by actually sticking their own neck in regards to leadership, checks and ballances.

    So, when can we expect an IBM flavor of Linux? IBM knows how to market software and has had experience with OS2 Warp. Now they just need their own destro to go along with their support of open source software.
  • Related article (Score:5, Interesting)

    by whovian ( 107062 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:23AM (#12199345)
    Yesterday's New York Times had a related article [] (do not pass Go, sell your soul). One of the points was that IBM is sharing some of its patents so that others may build on them. Collaboration is more economically efficient (ie. profitable) in the global business-space.
  • by Anita Coney ( 648748 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:30AM (#12199374) Homepage

    The company that patented [] "first come first serve" wants to reform the patent system?! What, did they finally run out of blatantly obvious ideas? Or is Microsoft gaining ground in patenting [] such ideas, which scares IBM somehow? Or is it the Japanese who are catching [] up?

    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:54AM (#12199518) Homepage
      The company that patented "first come first serve" wants to reform the patent system?! What, did they finally run out of blatantly obvious ideas?

      ...and maybe they realized "Gee, this is a really fucked up system when we have to run around patenting every variation of the obvious so noone else will and sue us over it? IBM hss countless patents, but they have been using them to protect their own innovations. IBM isn't afraid of other big companies since they can probably find a bunch of patents they mutually infringe on. I rhink they're seeing a system which is so out of hand, that all companies that work with innovation are suffering. Including, but not limited to themselves.

  • Here's the problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:33AM (#12199395) Homepage
    Here's the problem. In order to patent something, it must be either something completely new, or a novel enhancement on something that already exists. The problem that exists, is that companies can simply take something that already exists, and add "On The Internet" to it. We as tech savvy people see this as a big copp out, and think these patents of bogus. Well, it becomes really hard to figure out when doing X on the internet really is novel, while doing Y on the internet is not. If taking one thing and adding "On The Internet" is a valid patent, then taking any thing and adding "On The Internet" should work.
    • Clearly those in favour of "On the Internet" patents are also "enhancement smokers."

      "Ever look at the back of a $20 bill?"
      "Ever look at the back of a $20 bill...ON THE INTERNET?"

    • Something like this happens all the time; one big example is what happened after the invention of solid state electronic components (e. g., transistors). Lots of patent applicants would try to broadly claim circuits that did the same functions as vacuum tube-based ones, but with solid state components instead.

      Of course, there could be a patentable difference if details of the solid state circuit required some really new kind of arrangement, but many times a broad "wherein the oscillator circuit uses solid
  • Concerned parties (Score:2, Interesting)

    by galdur ( 829400 )
    Part of the brokenness stems from the fact that concerned parties (e.g. Open Source developers) may not have vested interests or be aware until after the patent has been granted and the owning company goes after those developers.

    Shouldn't the patent office be involve and look at claims of prior art from defendants in patent cases, especially when the claims haven't been tested before?

    What IBM's proposing is more akin to a polling architecture and I think it sounds rather inefficient.

    Best of all, th
  • by D4C5CE ( 578304 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:44AM (#12199445)
    Of course, "poor old IBM" has a history of its own in "hoarding" software patents, as well as enforcing them [] in ways that infuriate even top industry attorneys and the most fervent pro-patent advocates - cf. already Heckel, Debunking the Software Patent Myths, Communications of the ACM, June 1992, Vol.35, No.6, p.130.

    It's good to see how the taste of their own medicine in cases such as the SCO litigation finally seems to lead IBM back to their initial stance of speaking out against software patents - from one of the world's largest patent holders, the obligation to "use or lose IP" as in trademark law is quite a remarkable one.

  • by dAzED1 ( 33635 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:45AM (#12199454) Journal
    Whereas the patent portfolio for Amazon is filled with things like "one click shopping" or whatever, IBM has always done *EXTENSIVE* research. They make chips, and have a gambit of patents associated with them. They even work on things like teleportation [] for crying out loud. Yes - like "beam me up, Scott" type teleportation.

    No - IBM isn't Dell, a company that has never come up with anything new and does little else other than figure out the cheapest way to produce something. IBM isn't even a Microsoft, a company based entirely off taking someone else's ideas and implimenting them in proprietary ways (a compnay whose only real contribution is getting platforms and applications to work together well). Instead, IBM is very very heavily research-based. IMO, it's perfectly valid for IBM to have a vast # of patents, considering how much research it does. Dollar per research dollar, I'm willing to be it doesn't have all that many more per year than anyone else - they just put more dollars into it.

    With that in mind - suggesting they're the pot calling the kettle black is a bit of a stretch. They've got a lot of patent experience sure (there's a nice soft word for it, eh?) but back to that dollar per research dollar thing...

    If Cornell and Harvard got together and tried to get higher education to be more affordable for all Americans, would their intent be questioned simply because they're a couple of the more expensive schools? I pay $30k a year for my wife to go to vet school at Cornell. It's very painful. Cornell knows it, and is sympathetic to a degree...I know they would have loved to have seen Clinton's promised education costs reforms.

    Same bit. IBM does a lot of research, gets a lot of patents. Simply because they have a lot of patents doesn't invalidate their opinion that there is abuse of the patent system.
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:52AM (#12199505) Homepage
    I have a little trouble with IBM's stand on this in terms of motivation. What business edge would this give to them?

    Their not-so-low profile thier sponsorship of open source stuff, releasing all of their patents to OSS projects and their professed patent protection (that was IBM right?) leads me to think they are attempting to woo certain crowds. These same crowds who are a bit fearful of patent issues with OSS perhaps?

    Maybe they are truly pushing for an OSS marketplace... for IBM, it would tend to make a great deal of sense since they are primarily a service oriented business now. They still have products to sell, but mostly, it's the service agreements that make their bread and butter. If they get everyone thinking that way, it would put a serious hurt on people who sell software as a product.

    Generally, I am inclined to agree with this perspective on things -- what slashdotter wouldn't I suppose? But if they are willing to divest themselves of thier patent practices, I wonder what else they have in mind to follow-up on this? After all, it is "patent trading" that often keeps big businesses from tearing at each others throats with patent litigation every 5 minutes. It has been generally accepted practice not to question or try each others' patents as they will be exposed to the light and probably die from exposure. This serves only to keep the little guy from growing though...

    well anyway... any guesses what IBM will follow with next?
  • by CnCg ( 875089 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:58AM (#12199544)
    IBM was stifleing competition and innovation before Bill Gates was even born. They had a stranglehold on the mainframe market and instead of pushing forward they held back key improvements and locked down contracts with service contracts that punished someone for buying a competitor. All this resulted in Amdahl leaveing and forming a competitor to force innovation from IBM through competition.
  • by ( 687626 ) * on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:06AM (#12199580)
    Yeah, there really needs to be a public comment period for patents before they are granted, but I think that the patent office is more interested in collecting fees than being correct.
  • My solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Virtex ( 2914 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:16AM (#12199639)
    Reforming the patent system should be something that requires less work from everyone involved. My solution is to limit the number of patents a company or individual may own. Set it to something low -- say 5 patents -- and anyone who has more than that must pick the 5 they want to keep and give up the rest. When a patent is given up, it becomes public domain and cannot be patented again. If a company wants to patent something new, but is already maxed out on their patents, they must choose one of their existing patents to give up before patenting the new idea. This would force companies to only patent their best ideas, and would prevent them from hoarding patents.
  • by csoto ( 220540 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:19AM (#12199669)
    IBM spends billions on R&D every year. They are one of the companies that actually invents the things it patents. Gerstner finished what Akers started - heavy investment in R&D. Only Gerstner was able to turn that into a royalties payoff. Now just about every chip manufactured today employs IBM-invented technologies. So, they're in a much better position to follow Gerstner's mantra - "it doesn't matter who's box the customer uses, as long as IBM gets paid."

    Patent abuse tends to dilute IBM's position as a R&D-to-royalties focused technology company. They are simply protecting their position. I suspect other R&D-heavies (HP, GE, etc.) will back this, if they're smart.

  • Subject: A service for which a P.O. can milk both patent holder and alleged patent infringer.

    A method by which a alleged patent infringer can apply to the Patent Office for patent invalidation, pursuant to disbursement of a modest application fee for said invalidation application.

    Why only sell weapons to one side when you can sell to both?
  • by olddotter ( 638430 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:20AM (#12199685) Homepage
    Frankly I wouldn't be suprised if that alone wouldn't regect 70% of applications.
  • patent system change (Score:4, Interesting)

    by iive ( 721743 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:26AM (#12199714)
    Well the patent system does need a change.
    I was wondering what do you think about such change:

    Only an limited number of patents to be granted every year. Let's say 500 patents.

    This way only really important inventions (not innovations) will be honored with `limited goverment granted monopoly`. The patent office will throw faster the obvious and broad patents, and will have more time to focus on the really good candidates.

    As a side effect the less probability of granting patent will discourage the firms to fill as many patents as possible.

    The really good thing is that there will be an limited number of patents that could be checked more easy (e.g. only 10'000 valid patents at any time)

    The only question is what to do with already granted patents. I think that limiting their life would be good idea. For example cutting to half the rest of their life would be an good option. So if patent is just issued it will have 10 years, but if it would have 4 more years left, it will last only for 2.

  • Ladies and gentlemen of the supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider: (pulling down a diagram of Chewie) this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk, but Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now, think about that. That does not make sense! (jury looks shocked)

    Why would a Wookiee -- an eight foot tall Wookiee -- want to live on Endor with a bunch of two foot tall Ewoks? That does not make sense!

    But more importantly, you have to ask yourself: what does that have to do with this case? (calmly) Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense!

    Look at me, I'm a lawyer defending a major record company, and I'm talkin' about Chewbacca. Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense. None of this makes sense.

    And so you have to remember, when you're in that jury room deliberating and conjugating the Emancipation Proclamation... does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense.

    If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.
  • Volunteers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Snook ( 872473 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:36AM (#12199785)
    If you've read patents, you know how vague and dry they usually are. If you think you're going to get volunteers and the academic community to do prior art research for you in a structured way, on all patent applications, you're nuts.

    I can understand IBM's interest in patent reform. Maintaining a patent portfolio like theirs is not cheap, and they're a giant litigation target. Given their R&D, they're likely going to remain the 800-pound gorilla in patents no matter what the rules are.

    A much better solution would be to place more of the burden of the patent process on the applicant, in a way that's easily verifiable. If an applicant was forced to more thoroughly justify why their work is exceptional, with a bias towards granting a patent as specific to the reference implementation as possible, we'd see fewer applications, which would give more review time to the examiners, and less patent collision, where multiple vague patents cover the same thing.
  • Not that simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CaxDot ( 869821 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:36AM (#12199788)
    People are responding to this with examples of IBM's own patentorial misdemeanors, pointing to the fact that they themselves hold numerous trivial patents. I feel that even though this may be the case, it doesn't necessarily invalidate their position on software patents as proclaimed here. To survive under the current patent system IBM has ofcourse seen it necessary to play dirty themselves, and there is a possibility that they do not like it, even though they are a part of it. Yielding the market to companies of possibly lower moral fiber would i no circumstances help on the matter. Cax
  • Not just software! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Builder ( 103701 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:59AM (#12199938)
    I recently bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner and it had this little 'history' booklet attached to the unit. The last page of the booklet is titled 'The Patent Nightmare'

    Apparantly people who make Real Things(tm) have problems with patents too!
  • by Electric Eye ( 5518 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @10:10AM (#12200035)
    I have to come to the defense of the Patent Office on one public case last week. The morons at Smuckers tried to patent the "process" of sealing the edges of its Crustables "crustless" PB&J sandwich. The patent office told them to go take a hike, as the process has existed for years (ravioli, pie crusts, etc). They appealed to a US district court and the case was tossed. Score one for common sense.

    However, it's pretty clear that things have gotten out of hand. Too many people were/are making too much money on bogus patents and now that you have more lawyers involved, we're seeing what happens. As with most thing, they (lawyers, sharks, ambulanc chasers) destroy it.
  • by Free_Trial_Thinking ( 818686 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @10:26AM (#12200188)
    Monkeys didn't need a patent system to come out of the trees.
  • by Jailbrekr ( 73837 ) <> on Monday April 11, 2005 @10:35AM (#12200257) Homepage
    Why should it be the responsibility of the patent office or ourselves to prove prior art, when it is the companies themselves who should be responsible for doing due diligence? Why sohuld they offload their costs onto us? Yes, patent reform is necessary, but the onus should be placed squarely on the patent applicants and not us.

  • by David Off ( 101038 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @12:08PM (#12201321) Homepage
    The Google filing on the 31st of March for a Patent on Information retrieval based on historical data [] reminds me of a lot that is wrong with BP and software patents.

    The filing looks like they had an on-line brainstorming session about all of the historical data that could be discovered about a Web document. Someone then wrote this up with some waffly tech language and came up with a few formula and then filed as a huge patent that appears more to be staking out a massive claim on the search engine algorithm space. I guess that this patent is about having bargaining chips with MSN Search and Yahoo! when the great search engine shakeout comes. I don't blaim Google for using the system as it stands; now they have shareholders they have fidicual duty to be evil :-).

    There are some interesting ideas in the Google Patent and a much narrower filing with some specifics might merit a patent but talk like: a link has a creation and eventual destruction date, the rate of link creation to a document may be an indicator of the document's freshness, doesn't strike me as an invention more handwaving.

    Given that the patent office is not up to the task at least restrict the lifetime of software patents to around 4 years.

  • by mavenguy ( 126559 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @12:46PM (#12201786)
    With regard to the question of patent quality I have little faith that things will improve much, in at least the near term.

    Since the late 1960s the management culture at the PTO has shifted from a strong "nothing is patentable unless you really, really make a good argument and present narrow claims" to a "keep application pendency down by getting allowances/abandonments asap" approach. Since the applicant can argue rejections, which take time and energy to rebut in a new rejection, it is easier to just say "I agree" and allow the application. This is enforced by a quota system which, simplified, amounts to counting disposals (allowance by the examiner, abandonment by the applicant, or writing an examiner's answer to an appeal to the Board of Appeals filed by the applicant). When you throw in other performance elements such as responding within set time limits to applicant's responses, starting work on the oldest application in an examiner's docket, the actual "quality" performance elements (finding the best prior art and applying in logical, well reasoned rejections) are actually a relative minority of an examiner's performance rating (looking at page 35 of the following Inspector General's Report [], the first three elements are "quality elements, amounting to 40%; the remaining 60% are production time elements, service to the public, etc. This report, incidentally, is even more PHB oriented than the incredible level that PTO management already is)

    Added to this mix is that fact that, although the time allotted to examine each application is roughly unchanged over the last few decades it has gotten tougher to do a quality examination than it was years ago. This has been caused by several factors, but the main ones are:

    less ability to "write off" time spent on important examining related activities, such as maintaining search files (classifying foreign patents and the mass of non-patent documents into the Patent Classification scheme, which amounts to a way of "tagging" such documents, a valuable supplement to full text searching, and historically, the primary means to search)

    ever increasing requirements to justify making rejections; they have to discuss in bloody detail how each element of the claim is shown by the prior art, used in the same way, and, for obvious rejections, why it is proper to used disclosures from two or more references, the "motivation" to do so having to be derived by statements actually in the references, and not just by the examiner's deductive reasoning. Indeed, a rejection can be judged to be improper for not being properly supported by the cited prior art, counting as an error against the examiner.

    lots of other, constant distractions, procedures, and requirements encountered on a daily basis that have only multiplied over the years.

    When management is confronted with the complaints from influential "patent system users" such as IBM here, their typical response is to institute "quality review" programs where people who can't be as expert as the typical examiner who regularly works in the art of the application being reviewed is making judgements on issues like search quality, relevance of prior art to the claims, etc. The reviewers can do additional searches, basically spending more search time on the application, but with the consequence that the examiner will be charged with an error and suffer a decreased performance rating, rather than having more time to search the application and find the relevant art in the first case. What PTO management tries to do is like what PHBs in programming shops try to do by demanding more bug free code by increasing the QA department and then firing programmers who wrote the buggy code without changing the ever shorter deadlines. And, remember, that patent examination is not project work, but production work, that just on and an with no breaks until retirement, resignation, firing, or death.

  • by khelms ( 772692 ) on Monday April 11, 2005 @02:48PM (#12203520)
    The idea of patents was developed in a simpler time when the rate of progress was slower and new ideas only expanded upon, at most, a handful of existing patents that were still in effect.
    Today, the rate of change is so fast and most products are so complex that any new idea builds upon dozens or hundreds of active patents. That is why you see chains of patent violation claims like Tivo suing Echostar at the same time that Forgent is suing Tivo. Almost no product is standalone any more. Patents have mutated from protecting a single idea into being part of a company's "nuclear arsenal". You sue us for violating patents a,b, and c and we'll sue you for violating x,y, and z. IBM may have a lot of patents and derive a good amount of income from them, but I think they are fairly restrained compared to many other companies. If IBM was really nasty about enforcing all their patents aggressively, they could make life miserable for a large percentage of all companies in existance.
    Smaller companies that actually try to produce a product are at the biggest disadvantage under this system. Chances are they're violating one or more patents by larger companies or they come close enough that they could be forced to prove they're not. It's the little companies that have patented some idea and don't actually produce products based on it that are profiting. They can just sit back and sue anybody who comes close to violating their unused patent.
    From an admittedly lay perspective, it appears to me that 1) the duration of patents needs to be shortened, 2) that the owner of a patent should be required to actively attempt to implement or profit from it from the beginning. This crap where companies nobody ever heard of decide 10 years later to shake down everybody using JPEG or GIF for royalties must stop!, 3) full disclosure of patents must be legally required if a company is going to participate in any standards setting group. Example for this is Rambus participating in developing the SDRAM standard and then, after it became a huge success, announcing they owned a patent that covered part of the standard., and 4) like everyone else is saying - patents for ideas that are either obvious or prior art should be harder to get and easier to invalidate.

"The following is not for the weak of heart or Fundamentalists." -- Dave Barry