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03.03.17

IBM is a Massive Patent Bully That Amasses Software Patents, So Invalidation or ‘Sharing’ of One Single Patent Misses the Point Entirely

Posted in America, EFF, IBM, Patents at 8:27 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Today’s IBM is not Samuel Palmisano’s IBM but a shameless patent aggressor and legal bully

Samuel J. Palmisano
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Summary: IBM’s patent gold rush and worldwide lobbying for software patents yield lawsuits but also draw complaints — to the point where IBM resorts to face-saving moves and the Patent Office looks foolish for accepting bogus patent applications

FOR A rather large number of years (nearly a decade) we were mostly supportive and friendly towards IBM. Readers and especially longtime readers can agree. We were never inherently biased against IBM, maybe only the contrary (primarily because IBM supported ODF, GNU/Linux and so on). A lot of this changed, however, when IBM became an active patent bully again (2016), not to mention a vocal lobbyist for software patents (it had done this more covertly in the past). In a sense, IBM has become even an anti-FOSS bully. We cannot tolerate this because it directly and unequivocally betrays our values and principles. What on Earth happened to the 'old' IBM that Samuel Palmisano ran for quite some time with great success? IBM can barely sell its crown jewels anymore (stuff like mainframes), it lays off a lot of staff, and so it tries converting software patents — its last potent ‘asset’ (many of which due to expire soon) — into some kind of Mafia culture led by Ginni Rometty. For shame! What did IBM foresee — if it brothered with any projections/forecasts at all — as the impact to its brand and reputation which it so uniquely relies on? People don’t spent half a million dollars on a single machine unless they have great confidence in the brand (like the old saying, “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM”).

“What on Earth happened to the ‘old’ IBM that Samuel Palmisano ran for quite some time with great success?”A couple of days ago, prolific sites noticed yet another one of these notorious IBM patents. Slashdot in this case has many comments about it and this is far from the first time that Slashdot nitpicks or criticises IBM patents, resulting in public concessions and/or apologies from IBM. But the whole debate started like this not at the beginning of this month but at the end of February, courtesy of the EFF. It called it “Stupid Patent of the Month” and explained it as follows:

On January 17, 2017, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted IBM a patent on an out-of-office email system. Yes, really.

United States Patent No. 9,547,842 (the ’842 Patent),“Out-of-office electronic mail messaging system,” traces its history to an application filed back in 2010. That means it supposedly represents a new, non-obvious advance over technology from that time. But, as many office workers know, automated out-of-office messages were a “workplace staple” decades before IBM filed its application. The Patent Office is so out of touch that it conducted years of review of this application without ever discussing any real-world software.

“”Watson” is another such marketing stunt — selling that old illusion of IBM being sharp and ahead of the curve.”“IBM Shamed Into Giving Away Awful Patent On Email Out-Of-Office Messages,” TechDirt wrote soon afterwards. TechDirt typically reprints the “Stupid Patent of the Month” series, but it didn’t do it this time around. TechDirt‘s coverage was better than the rest because it emphasised the real reasons for IBM’s ‘generous’ giveaway. To quote: “IBM basically tries to patent everything, no matter how stupid. The company has (no, really) been at the top of the patent recipient list in the United States for an astounding 24 straight years. Really. And, yes, sure, the company has done some innovative things and yes, Watson’s pretty cool, but does anyone actually think IBM is the most innovative company around for the past two and a half decades? It gets tons of patents because IBM has an army of lawyers who just try to patent anything. Earlier this week, the EFF put out its regular Stupid Patent of the Month post, and it was about an incredibly stupid patent from IBM. The patent (US Patent 9,547,842) is for an out-of-office email messaging system.”

IBM is somewhat of a fake innovator, which (as we last explained in January) exploits the illusion of patents as surrogates of innovation to sell the idea that it’s the most clever company out there and thus worth the high cost of hardware and/or services. “Watson” is another such marketing stunt — selling that old illusion of IBM being sharp and ahead of the curve. IBM was a leader in many areas several decades ago, but this has not been the case for a good number of years. All that IBM has to show now is a big pile of patents, many of which are worthless and should never have been granted. It likely helped them when they had one of their own running the Patent Office.

“All that IBM has to show now is a big pile of patents, many of which are worthless and should never have been granted.”The latest patent controversy was covered in many places and sites, and not just in English. There were about a dozen press articles about this ‘Out-Of-Office’ patent in English alone (e.g. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]). It’s only this kind of negative publicity which drove IBM to putting aside one simple patent, simply out of shame.

This is still making headlines/news in some circles, but the story has lost momentum by now, hence we decided to do a media survey of sorts. We believe it’s exhaustive or at least comprehensive. This might help next time IBM does it, as it did the above many times before. Instead of IBM doing the right thing, like Infosys, it keeps pursuing just more and more of these patents, simply adding buzzwords like “cloud” or “AI” to old ideas (to make them appear novel/innovative and thus worthy of a patent grant).

“Victory!” wrote the EFF, “After EFF’s Stupid Patent of the Month post, IBM dedicates patent on out-of-office email to the public.”

“It’s like that old (a decade-old) EFF campaign where they went after one patent at a time, striving to squash some high-profile ‘nuisance’ patents rather than the entire class of such patents.”But it would be an even bigger victory if Big Thug IBM (or International Bullying Machine, as Florian Müller once called it) altogether stopped pursuing software patents, gave away all its software patents, surrendered all lawsuits it had initiated over software patents, and ceased lobbying for software patents. Better yet, it would be nice if the EFF compelled the USPTO to stop granting software patents, and not just to IBM. There are many thousands of IBM patents like the above patent; that’s a lot more where that came from and some of these are actively being used to shake down IBM’s smaller competitors. So the key problem isn’t solved. It’s like that old (a decade-old) EFF campaign where they went after one patent at a time, striving to squash some high-profile ‘nuisance’ patents rather than the entire class of such patents.

“Fighting patents one by one will never eliminate the danger of software patents, any more than swatting mosquitoes will eliminate malaria.”

Richard Stallman

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