IBM withdraws patent claim

My IBM colleagues in intellectual property asked me to post the following statement in order to get it out to as many people as quickly as possible:

IBM has put into the public domain and withdrawn its application for patent number US2007/0162321 – Outsourcing of Services. This patent application covers analyzing work flows, skills, economic costs, etc. Here’s why we are withdrawing it — IBM adopted a new policy a year ago to sharply reduce business method patent filings and instead stress significant technical content in its patents. Even though the patent application in question was filed eight months before the policy took effect in September, 2006, had the policy been in place at the time, IBM would not have filed the application. We’re glad the community pointed this application out so IBM could take swift action.


  1. Wow, I thought this was a joke. Apparently not.

    In gratitude I’ve decided not to patent Money for Old Rope.

  2. I just broadcast it on twitter (in 140 chars or less) since lotsa folks track “IBM” there…

  3. An interesting outline suggesting OOXML v ODF is in fact OOXML v HTML.

    Big vendors really fighting a turf war?



  4. I’ve shared the news of IBM’s newest action with readers of my blog. I’m sure they’re relieved (as am I).

  5. Kudos to IBM

    ps. story on slashdot

  6. Really what is the thinking here…. Patent it all, and let the lawyers figure it out at $500 an hour?

  7. Michelle D'israeli

    The best thing about IBM’s withdrawl is that by having applied for the patent, it’s existance is now known and will count as prior art against any future similar patent. I hope that IBM’s policy against business method patents also includes measures to push new methods into the public domain and lever any such development for use as prior art against similar patent filings.

  8. I genuinely admire IBM’s attention to keeping the respect of the community. For a giant corporation, IBM has been doing a lot of good and farsighted things of late.

  9. michelle IANAL i think you are highly mistaken as to how IP and patent law works. The fact that IBM applied for the patent is irrellevant. To give it away to the public they could patent it and then release the patent itself to public domain… OR a significantly faster and less expensive option would be to simply publish it. Publishing would be considered public disclosure and therein make the claim somewhat unpatentable.

    the real ambiguity in my mind seems to be when patent troll X takes idea and twists it minutely.

    There is some validity to your claim in that now it will be excessively obvious when some one else tries the same patent which might hopefully be obvious enough for the USPTO to say no. I tend to have little faith in them when it comes to obviousness.

  10. Michelle D'israeli

    A edel, as IBM have not yet stated that with this new policy they will be publishing their claims, the fact that they had published this one (by applying for a patent) is good, and that was what I was referring to. I am fully aware of patent law, I’m just also aware that they may have never published it in the first place.

    What I am not aware of, however, is the benefits of withdrawing the application over allowing the patent to be granted and then releasing it to the public domain. If people would like to speculate on that, it would be most appreciated.

    I too have little faith in the USPTO when it comes to identifying obviousness, however at least recent court cases have shown that there is some hope. There is also a project to ‘open source’ patent examination, reducing the reliance on the USPTO examiners.

    To be fair to the USPTO examiners, it must also be said that an absolutely amazing number of patents are being filed every day, and I seriously doubt that they have appropriate means to search through all existing patents, applications and other resources for prior art. They also have a conflict of interests in terms of funding, relying on income from the fees charged to companies (who expect a patent) yet existing in theory to benefit all mankind through the free publication of original technology and ideas.

  11. About time! Unlike others, I will not be jumping on the “kudos to IBM” band-wagon. A business with the history, capacity and depth of resources of IBM should never have been in the position of filing these kind of frivolous patent applications in the first place.

    All that has happened is that IBM has finally righted something that was very wrong in the first place, something hardly worthy of congratulation.

    IBM (like other major companies – Ericsson, Toyota, etc come to mind) has shown itself over many decades to be very capable of perfoming “real” research and R&D. Silly filings of these “pseudo-1-click” business method patents actually diminish the reputation of the company, and also tarnish the reputations of the real scientists, engineers and innovators working on real systems and real challenges. It’s disappointing in the extreme – especially from a company who has only recently defeated some similarly asinine “IP” ownership claims by SCO.

  12. If you are going to scrap a patent application, then it’s cheaper to do it sooner. In terms of cash spent, and in terms of everyone’s time and energy.

  13. On the face of it, based on the WSJ, business methods patents have just lost their tooth in the USPTO. Software patents are hopefully next.

  14. I think you might need a constitutional convention, to reopen the question of what subject matter is patentable or not in the USA. Then you get into the question of whether respect needs to be shown for the Flag, and other deep questions that may be better left un-asked. Possibly better to leave the can of worms un-opened.

    NASA, being publically-funded, would like to give their software away. is their ‘technology transfer’ web site. Go get all you need there. Last I looked, there was a plea for someone … anyone … to port their software so that it would run under Windows XP.

    IBM, being privately-funded, has a slightly different agenda. I’m sure Bob can explain it better than I, so I’ll leave it to him.

  15. I wouldn’t celebrate quite yet. The assault on intellectual property based on claims such as the one IBM just dropped given a long history of making such claims for offensive and defensive business tactics could give way to a worse situation. Take the case of SceneCaster and the Google Warehouse. Did the contributors to the warehouse know a company would build a profitable business over their works? There is a continuum of conditions from the non-profits to the strictly for profits that should be part of a sober discussion of intellectual property. There are agreements that must be explicit and conditions set or the wholesale rape of author’s works continues unabated just at the time companies such as IBM and Google are sponsoring worlds that close the doors to sharing works by applying proprietary systems to the open Internet.

    Good on IBM for an instance of good behavior, but this is from the company that is the MOST notorious for using its patent portfolio to muscle competitiors. If this is a cultural sea change, I am glad to see it. If it is a sop to generate publicity to assume a patina of good will then it is the kind of act that has to be factored into a complete analysis of the company’s overall strategies in the business services market.

    Before I applaud, I think I will wait to see the end of the second act in the show.

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