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IBM Gets a Patent On 'Out-of-Office' Email Messages -- In 2017 (arstechnica.com) 65

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued IBM a -- what the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls -- "stupefyingly mundane" patent on e-mail technology. U.S. Patent No. 9,547,842, "Out-of-office electronic mail messaging system" was filed in 2010 and granted about six weeks ago. Ars Technica reports: The "invention" represented in the '842 patent is starkly at odds with the real history of technology, accessible in this case via a basic Google search. EFF lawyer Daniel Nazer, who wrote about the '842 patent in this month's "Stupid Patent of the Month" blog post, points to an article on a Microsoft publicity page that talks about quirky out-of-office e-mail culture dating back to the 1980s, when Microsoft marketed its Xenix e-mail system (the predecessor to today's Exchange.) IBM offers one feature that's even arguably not decades old: the ability to notify those writing to the out-of-office user some days before the set vacation dates begin. This feature, similar to "sending a postcard, not from a vacation, but to let someone know you will go on a vacation," is a "trivial change to existing systems," Nazer points out. Nazer goes on to identify some major mistakes made during the examination process. The examiner never considered whether the software claims were eligible after the Supreme Court's Alice v. CLS Bank decision, which came in 2014, and in Nazer's view, the office "did an abysmal job" of looking at the prior art. "[T]he examiner considered only patents and patent applications," notes Nazer. The office "never considered any of the many, many, existing real-world systems that pre-dated IBM's application."
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IBM Gets a Patent On 'Out-of-Office' Email Messages -- In 2017

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  • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @06:49PM (#53958389)

    Since when is IBM still an American company, they cannot seem to shed American workers fast enough. There are some jobs el Presidente Tweetie can save, convince Rometty that she really wants to hire Americans, watch her turn green.

    • by The Real Dr John ( 716876 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @06:52PM (#53958417) Homepage

      People need to complain and stop this nonsense. Patents and copyrights should expire at 20 years max. Maybe less. This stifles creativity and productivity, and has nothing to do with the original intent of protecting inventors and writers. It has to stop.

      • by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @07:00PM (#53958471) Homepage Journal

        People need to complain and stop this nonsense. Patents and copyrights should expire at 20 years max. Maybe less. This stifles creativity and productivity, and has nothing to do with the original intent of protecting inventors and writers. It has to stop.

        If an idea can be conceived in an hour and implemented in a under a month, then 20 years is far in excess of anything reasonable. This is part of the problem with software patents: many of the patents can be designed and implemented in less than a month. Contrast that to hardware, where the cycle can often closer to a year, or more, and many hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent, so an extended protection makes some sense to recoup R&D costs.

        • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @07:54PM (#53958817)
          It doesn't matter. The purpose of IP (in the US) is "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

          If a patent or copyright makes a reasonable profit during it's term, the intent of those exclusive rights is met. Beyond that, locking up IP impedes progress, since others can't freely build on the original. Disney built their business using the works of the bros. Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Kipling, etc. [medium.com], but now work diligently to steal our culture from us by preventing newcomers from doing similar.

          There are very, very, few inventions or works which are created with an expectation of not making good profit in less than 20 years (or for copyright, 14 years, plus one extension if the author was still alive, which was the original copyright term - patents were a bit shorter in general). And if something is going to take that long to provide enough public benefit to make a profit, it's probably better to open it up to 3rd party improvement sooner, so there's an opportunity to make it better.
          • If a patent or copyright makes a reasonable profit during it's term, the intent of those exclusive rights is met. Beyond that, locking up IP impedes progress, since others can't freely build on the original. Disney built their business using the works of the bros. Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Kipling, etc. [medium.com], but now work diligently to steal our culture from us by preventing newcomers from doing similar.

            In the world of software I would argue that patents impede more than they help promote innovation. Many of the motivations for developing software aren't because there is a promise of a patent or monopoly, since if it were we wouldn't have the huge number of open source solutions. If a company hasn't capitalized on a software 'invention' within a couple of years, then there is a good chance someone will come up with and equivalent solution, without evening needing to see how the 'original' works and in a nu

            • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @09:25PM (#53959285)
              Software is an even more extreme case - there's no reasonable argument that continued copyright protection for Apple 2, or Nintendo NES, or MS-DOS programs promote the progress of science and useful arts, yet all are still under protection. A 5-10 year term for software copyright would be reasonable.

              Also, a requirement that in order to even get copyright protection at all, the source code must be placed into a depository which can be publicly accessed upon term expiration - without which the protected work can't be considered contribute to progress in the first place.
              • You are conflating patents with copyrights. Patents were created to protect concrete inventions, not abstract ideas. Copyright covers written compositions and recorded performances. For some reason, the U.S. has deemed software as one of the few things on the planet capable of receiving both protections. It makes complete sense for software to be covered under copyright since the part of software development that defines value is in the source code which is protect by copyright law. However, patents do
          • It's Hans Christian Andersen, not Anderson.
      • Either require the patent office to a reasonable effort to verify patent applications, or make it a pure registration system where you must prove the patent valid when you try to enforce it.
        • by msauve ( 701917 )
          "make it a pure registration system where you must prove the patent valid when you try to enforce it."

          So, weight the scales even more toward large corporations with lawyers on retainer, and against the small startup?
      • and has nothing to do with the original intent of protecting inventors and writers.

        The funny thing is that the original intent was not about that at all. The intent was to enrich the public domain.

      • People need to complain and stop this nonsense.

        Well a good start will be if IBM now sue the US Patent Office for patent infringement because their email system sends out-of-office emails as I presume it probably does.

    • International .......Business Machines.they weren't lying
    • There are some jobs el Presidente Tweetie can save, convince Rometty that she really wants to hire Americans, watch her turn green. i'm hoping don will do "lunch" with ginny soon ie: one on one, if he hasn't already. that should bring ibm back to America.
  • Now prepare for an influx of IBM lawsuits to everyone that has an out-of-office messaging system.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @08:05PM (#53958865)

      FTFA:

      Asked about EFF's criticisms of the patent, an IBM spokesperson said that "IBM has decided to dedicate the patent to the public." The company notified USPTO today that it will forego its rights to the patent.

      Which means that even IBM realizes that trying to enforce this patent would be a PR nightmare.

      • Or, it could have been preemptive in nature, securing the obvious so that someone ... say .. Microsoft or Google tried to patent the same.

        • That's the real answer. First of all, IBM ranks right at the top in terms of number of patents granted, and it has for a couple decades running. With all those patents, of course they'll vary in quality and significance. Second, IBM is the first to admit that its patent strategy is primarily defensive -- to grab the patents (or to make disclosures to establish prior art, which it also does a lot) before a patent troll, or a fading technology company turning into a future patent troll, does. IBM makes surpri

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      Be sure not to leave an "I'm out of the office, returning..." message on your VM.
  • im stunned in this foul year of our lord 2017 that out of office replies exist. part best intention, part surrogate for poor planning, and part excuse to not check the vacation calendar at work, the out of office message is truly the turd of SMTP. ive been reprimanded for not setting my out of office replies, forced to implement them in Exchange, and lambasted by puerile users who arent allowed to set them in my email environments.

    nowadays I dont even offer a reason. If a user asks me to add OOO to m
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      and part excuse to not check the vacation calendar at work

      OOO notification makes sense because not everyone who can e-mail me has access to my companies calendar system. They can't because it contains potentially sensitive information.

  • In the 1970s I had a message system check my status and post a reply to any posts on what became email that were "addressed" to me, stating that I was out of office or whatever my status had changed to.

    This was back when we used cameras to take pics of the vending machines in the basement. It was a long way to walk if there was no coke in the machine.

    IBM is using my creation. And probably that of thousands of us, which means it's in Common Use and not patentable.

  • ... Slashdot posts a blog post which is completely ignorant of patent law. It's not just a typical out of office setup.
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      completely ignorant of patent law

      Perhaps. But patent law is so terribly broken that we can still afford ourselves a hearty laugh before the consequences of this fiasco comes back to bite innovators in the ass.

      From TFA:

      But the examiner considered only patents and patent applications. The Patent Office spent years going back-and-forth on whether IBMâ(TM)s claims where new compared to a particular 2006 patent application. But it never considered any of the many, many, existing real-world systems that pre-dated IBMâ(TM)s application.

      Based on this logic, I could be granted a patent on the wheel.

      F*'d up characters intentionally left in. Because it's $current_year and about time for Slashdot to get its act together.

  • Shiva Ayyadurai [inventorofemail.com] will certainly have something to say about this!

  • My opinion of Trump would go from F to D if he rid software patents. It would stimulate a lot of small tech biz's who don't have armies of patent lawyers.

  • by by (1706743) ( 1706744 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @08:18PM (#53958943)
    According to this [techdirt.com]:

    Asked today about EFF's criticisms of the patent, an IBM spokesperson said that "IBM has decided to dedicate the patent to the public."

    So, while I absolutely think this is a stupid patent, a) I'd rather this outcome than a true patent troll get it, and b) the problem (as I see it...) is really with the patent system, NOT with IBM.

  • by thogard ( 43403 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @08:27PM (#53958999) Homepage

    Perhaps the EFF could ask a judge to issue an injunction barring that examiner from issuing any more patents until they are properly trained.

    If you can't change the system at the proper level, maybe you can change the systems using their own KPIs.

  • "its Xenix e-mail system (the predecessor to today's Exchange.)"

    So, sendmail, I guess? :)

  • A patent can talk about previous ideas. The title of a patent can often look like it's about something already discovered. But it really is about what is in the claim section. This one is about comparing what is in someone's calendar and automatically sending a away message as a result to people who have not already gotten an away message. I've gotten lots of away messages but they are always because I tell my mail program to send them for a given time, not because I've marked on my calendar that I'm no
  • Correct if I am wrong, but as I understand it the patent office just rubber stamps any patent application as long as all the eyes are crossed and tees are dotted. It's up to any other party to prove that the patent should not have been granted. Which is where all the expensive lawyers come in, which is why patents have no purpose except for huge companies to fuck with each other.

    • Pretty much. And the courts, for the most part, assume that a patent is valid if the patent office has approved it (unless you can prove otherwise which is an uphill battle). This is what makes the patent system so ripe for abuse.

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