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01.18.11

Big Blue’s Winter of Shame

Posted in Free/Libre Software, IBM, Patents at 12:51 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Abstract floral winter background

Summary: IBM is named a #1 monopolist again for grabbing more patents — including patents on software algorithms — than any other company in the world; some controversial patents are highlighted

GUESS which company is the #1 patentor? That’s an easy question because it’s always IBM, which supports software patents. IBM’s ‘achievement’ (gaining the most monopolies) is very unimpressive and unnecessary. In just one year IBM earned 5,896 patents [1, 2, 3], which means that there are many areas of computing being ‘locked’. The rise in IBM’s pace of patenting may say something about the quality of patents rapidly declining — a subject we’ll deal with in later posts. Jan Wildeboer writes: “The new #PaaS by #IBM – Patents As A (patented) Service :-) http://is.gd/kufJe” (from end of December 2010).

IBM loves patenting every piece of junk under the sun and occasionally it bullies companies with it, e.g. Sun. Colin Jackson writes:

IBM patents…patenting? What? http://bit.ly/fM76Pu End the madness, end software patents! #swpats

In IBM’s critics’ rink [via Slashdot] there are suggestions that it’s a “Patent Troll Patent” and to quote the original:

It may be somewhat ironic that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published in the last week of 2010, a year with a boat load of questionable patent filings and approvals, a patent application from IBM, which automates the management of intellectual property and comes with a “defend” module to formulate a strategy in the case of patent infringement.

The right to protect inventions and intellectual property from being copied in a frivolous way is one of the foundations of a rewarding economy, but a loose control and oversight in fact can have the opposite effect and we are witnessing astonishing lawsuits based on IP infringement claims every day. A few days ago, Microsoft co-founder revised his rampage against Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo. There is an ongoing trial involving a key Wi-Fi patent. And we are lost in confusion who is suing whom over what in the smartphone arena. The latest entrants are Sony and LG: Sony claims that LG infringes on 7 Sony mobile phone patents.

Another respectable Web site alleged that “IBM Files Application to Patent The Patent Process”:

Reading through IT patents these days requires patience and tolerance. When you can patent common sense, there is clearly something wrong with the system. But as long as no changes are being made, you are inviting people to exploit what is available and IBM has just demonstrated what may be possible, if one of their most recent patent applications is accepted by the USPTO.

The company felt it would be beneficial to patent the patent strategy process all the way from training inventors, to competitor monitoring and protecting (i.e. suing someone) a patent from infringement. This patent does not describe anything new, but a strategy that is being pursued by anyone who owns a patent and especially patent trolls or people like Paul Allen, who is just taking another shot at suing Google for patent infringement.

This was also covered in ““IBM Files For Patent On Patent Trolling, But It May Be Too Late”; “IBM targets patent trolls – with a proposed patent” and “Big Blue tries to patent the patent process”, which are more sympathetic towards IBM (alleging that IBM is just trying to defend itself from patent trolls.

“What about IBM’s legitimisation of software patents?”From a somewhat selfish point of view, the Free software community can yawn at the news because IBM uses some of its patents to defend F/OSS, but then again, what about companies that become victims, like Sun? What about IBM’s legitimisation of software patents? And what would happen if IBM lost its implicit “government franchise” status and fell under the bus after a decade or so? Would it be legally obliged not to sue everyone under the sun? Of course not. And as experience suggests, patents such as Novell’s and Sun’s become weapons once their original holder implodes. This will be the subject of the next post.

If IBM loves software freedom (which it only cares about out of convenience), then it will reform the system rather than be the largest participant in it, with its a former employee now heading the USPTO.

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