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IBM Adopts Open Patent Policy 91

Andy Updegrove writes to mention a New York Times article about IBM's bold new move to reform patent practices. The nation's largest patent holder will adopt several new policies intended to clear up the veil of secrecy and wall of lawsuits that plague the patent process. From the article: "The policy, being announced today, includes standards like clearly identifying the corporate ownership of patents, to avoid filings that cloak authorship under the name of an individual or dummy company. It also asserts that so-called business methods alone -- broad descriptions of ideas, without technical specifics -- should not be patentable. The move by I.B.M. does carry business risks. Patents typically take three or four years after filing to be approved by the patent office. Companies often try to keep patent applications private for as long as possible, to try to hide their technical intentions from rivals."
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IBM Adopts Open Patent Policy

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  • Value proposition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) <tomstdenis@gmail . c om> on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:04AM (#16199573) Homepage
    Patents on many things are kinda moot. Put a patent on your CPU design, but only a handful of companies on earth can actually make an ASIC...If foundry's are a dime-a-dozen what's your value? [hint: they're not, which is why being able to make reliable chips is a value proposition worth holding onto]

    If companies just focused on things they can offer, at qualities no one else can then they'd make money. It's when they get this entitled sense of "I have a right to be making gobs of money regardless of what I do" that we get into this patent mess.

    Tom
    • by Brickwall ( 985910 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:10AM (#16199651)
      It's when they get this entitled sense of "I have a right to be making gobs of money regardless of what I do" that we get into this patent mess.

      But it's not a case of "regardless of what I do" - it's a case of "I did something unique, and I want to be rewarded for it". That's why the US Constitution specifically provides for patents of limited duration. If they truly developed something new, they are entitled to a reward (as opposed to the ridiculous "business model" patents that caused RIM and the Blackberry so much trouble). If IBM is truly leading the way to junk the business model patent, they are doing all of us a service.

      • Yeah, but if I can make an ASIC of similar quality as well shouldn't that affect your value? Patents are artificial constructs. You can either make the ASIC or not. Being obstructed by a THOUGHT is ludicrous. Getting patents on things that all of your competitors could easily do as well means your business is not well founded.

        I'm all for copyright, because at least you have to create something. Patents are far too often abused in terms of proof of concept, vagueness, etc to actually be considered a goo
        • by Chacham ( 981 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:29AM (#16199945) Homepage Journal
          Being obstructed by a THOUGHT is ludicrous. Getting patents on things that all of your competitors could easily do as well means your business is not well founded.

          If your competitors can't do it, there is no reason for a patent.

          The patent is made to protect the filer. The protection is that it protects his time and money.

          If i create the better mouse trap, and the world starts beating a path to my door, i need to invest money to start making more. The problem is, by the time i put the money and effort in to getting my factory going, an old-style mouse trap company will use one production line to make this new one. End result, i'm out all that money because they can outsell me due to preexisting infrastructure. However, if i get a patent, i can put my money and effort into it, knowing that i am protected for a period of time.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by tomstdenis ( 446163 )
            You don't have to describe how you made the tiny 65nm circuit, you just have to do it. Can you honestly tell me with an electron scope you could figure out how the circuit was made?

            I agree there is a problem if your employees steal your companies technology and take it elsewhere. That's where employee contracts come in handy. I think instead of a Patent act we should have a secrecy act. That is, you can be sued if you take advantage of someone elses secrets by poaching employees or espionage [but not vi
            • Re:Value proposition (Score:4, Informative)

              by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:54AM (#16200333) Homepage Journal
              Can you honestly tell me with an electron scope you could figure out how the circuit was made
              Maybe not, but I can with the following assets:

              FIB (Forced Ion Beam)
              E-Beam
              SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope)
              AFM (Atomic Force Microscope)
              Industrial espionage
              Hiring some of your key staff
              Bribing your FAB &&|| Foundry (especially if in APAC)
              Bribing your customers (they often have datasheets not publicly available)

              (honestly I don't need all of this, various subsets can accomplish the same end results in varying ammounts of time (days, weeks, monts. Always < 1year)).

              Ask me how I know (Hint, my company has both been on the receiving end and giving end of this. The giving end was to prove/disprove whether they stole our design. They did.)
              -nB
              • by Gertlex ( 722812 )
                Ask me how I know


                Sure... Curiosity wonders how many of those methods were used by hinted companies on hinted product(s).

                I really is interesting to hear.
              • by sukotto ( 122876 )
                You should write that up and patent it.

                "Process to determine method of creating a duplicate manufactoring process of electronic and other systems".

            • Except that we want inventions to be disclosed, which is why we have patents in the first place!

              • by Chacham ( 981 )
                Except that we want inventions to be disclosed, which is why we have patents in the first place!

                Interesting, if we switch the two bolded words (minus the "ed") we get:

                Except that we disclose inventions to be wanted, which is why we have patents in the first place!

                It also makes sense in a devious sort of way. :)
            • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @11:00AM (#16200421) Homepage Journal
              I agree there is a problem if your employees steal your companies technology and take it elsewhere. That's where employee contracts come in handy. I think instead of a Patent act we should have a secrecy act. That is, you can be sued if you take advantage of someone elses secrets by poaching employees or espionage [but not via co-invention].

              We do. It's called trade secret law, and it's a very old form of law rooted in British common law. Virtually every tech company out there makes use of trade secret law on a day-to-day basis. Of course, the problem with trade secret law is this: what if I can figure out how to make a 65nm circuit by examining it with electron microscope? Well, then guess what? The trade secret isn't secret anymore and it loses its protected status. That's where patents come in.

              I'm not in favor of abolishing patents -- I think patents are a good thing when used correctly. It's the patent abuse that ruins the whole system. I don't think we should throw out the baby with the bath water. What we need to do is reform the patent system, and IBM has taken a good first step in leading the way. No more business process patents, no more vagueness, and for godsakes, if you haven't implemented your invention yet, you don't deserve a patent. And the USPTO needs to stop granting patents for things that are blatantly obvious to anyone skilled in the art.

              • Re:Value proposition (Score:5, Informative)

                by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @12:18PM (#16201527)
                The problem with trade secret law is that your technology is a secret. The point of patents isn't really to protect inventors -- in many cases they can do that themselves with trade secrets. The point is to encourage further innovation by making knowledge public. Nobody would make their mouse trap building process public because everyone would steal it... so they are awarded a patent in exchange for making their invention and specifics on how to duplicate it, public. The patent guarantees them a monopoly on it for a set period of time in exchange for sharing that knowledge.
                • Every other post I've seen here misunderstands the fundamental purpose of patents. The parent gets it right. Mod him up, please.
                • Making the knowledge public is a practical necessity if you wish the patent to be enforced, but it's not a quid pro quo for getting a patent. Innovation is encouraged by the grant of the temporary monopoly, not by the disclosure.
                  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
                    I disagree. The idea that innovation is encouraged by the monopoly of patents is a popular idea today, but I don't believe it was the primary motivator when the world's patent systems were first set up.

                    Plenty of innovation took place before there was a patent system. However, the only way of protecting your invention was by keeping secrets. The patent system requires inventors to share details of their inventions for several purposes. Researchers can build upon your technique and use the theory behind i
          • by asc99c ( 938635 )
            Patents from the traditional 'physical world' protect a specific implementation. E.g. a 'better mousetrap' patent might be to use a trapdoor to keep the mouse in a box without killing it - I know these exist, not sure if there's a patent on it. The problem with the more nebulous business model and many software patents is that there is very little implementation detail and the patent often covers far too broad a range of implementations.

            A lot of bad patents seem to simply cover implementing an idea in sof
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
              You think that's bad... I was a student in an academic lab that patented all applications of a given algorithm (which we didn't invent) in a major field. No specifics at all, just applications of A in field B.

              We've lost sight of what patents are for. If the knowledge contained in the patent is not valuable to the public then it should not be patentable -- let the company keep it as a trade secret (if they can). Patents are a reward the public gives in exchange for the inventor placing useful knowledge in
      • "I did something unique, and I want to be rewarded for it". --Note when you have an incorportion that exists outside of time how long is a limited duration, what 50 years, 75, or has AOL/TimeWarner/Disney pushed it to 100 Years? I'd like to remind you the initial idea of a patent was to allow ideas to become public domain, now it's a legal means to protect your assets. Oh how Jefferson must be turning!
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by HUADPE ( 903765 )
          -Note when you have an incorportion that exists outside of time how long is a limited duration, what 50 years, 75, or has AOL/TimeWarner/Disney pushed it to 100 Years?

          I believe what you are refering to is a COPYRIGHT. That is an exclusive right to produce a specific written/drawn/taped/otherwise recorded production for a scope of time as the creator of that content. It is fundamentally different from a patent in that it does not control production of a thing, but publication of an idea.

          Patents provide

          • COPYRIGHT ... It is fundamentally different from a patent in that it does not control production of a thing, but publication of an idea. Patents provide a broader degree of protection

            You claim that patents are much broader than copyrights over their respective subject matter. I can think of an exception: why is copying a single phrase of music [slashdot.org], with 9 or fewer notes, considered copyright infringement?

            until some fsking asshat came up with patenting business models, which as written works that can't be ph

        • by Amouth ( 879122 )
          quick .. grab some cables.. need to charge my car..

          or is that method already patented?
        • You are confusing patents and copyright. Patents still last a maximum of 20 years from first filing and have a cost associated with renewing them which increases each year. Also, unlike copyrights, patents must be filed separately in each country/jurisdiction in which the protection is required.
      • by ajs318 ( 655362 )

        it's a case of "I did something unique, and I want to be rewarded for it".

        But the whole point of the patent system is -- well, was originally -- that you don't get rewarded for doing something unique. You get rewarded for sharing the special thing that you've done with the rest of the world. Doing something new and unique and then keeping it to yourself is not worthy of reward; which is why if, instead of patenting something you invented, you keep it a secret, then anyone else who gets the same idea ind

  • Seriously? (Score:2, Funny)

    by diersing ( 679767 )
    As the largest consumer of McDonald's food I'm announcing today how I'm going to change the menu and pricing standards. Film at 11
    • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ZachPruckowski ( 918562 ) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:09AM (#16199641)
      If the only people who are saying that something is screwed up are the people hurt by it, that's one thing. But it lends a lot more legitimacy to a campaign to have not only victims but beneficiaries calling foul. Not to mention that IBM has a lot more campaigning weight and power than the EFF, GNU Foundation, and everyone else combined.
      • Has IBM used it's political influence, lobbyist, or worked with the government in any way to reform the structure from the inside? Or are they taking a holier then thou approach that could (most likely) lead to them losing their competitive edge by announcing to it's competitors what's in the hopper (so to speak)?
    • by ClamIAm ( 926466 )
      largest consumer of McDonald's food

      heh heh heh...
  • Here's an idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dsginter ( 104154 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:06AM (#16199595)
    Make frivolous patents illegal and punishable by a 10-year FPMITA prison sentence. Then, offer frivolous patent holders a indemnity by turning in their frivolous patents to a patent disposal system (similar to a fire arm turn in). Maybe even give them a lemon cookie for being a good citizen.

    Then, allow all patent holders to submit their votes for the most frivolous patents. Prosecute the top 100 holders every month. Rinse, repeat (until their are no more frivolous patents).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kfg ( 145172 ) *
      Make frivolous patents illegal and punishable by a 10-year FPMITA prison sentence.

      How about saving everyone a lot of time, trouble and expense and just not grant frivolous patents?

      Just stamp all such applications "Dumbass" and send 'em back. Problem solved.

      KFG
      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
        I like the other poster's suggestion of a ban for a period of time. That would help keep the dumbasses from flooding the patent system like they do now.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Who decides whether or not a patent is frivolous? If it is the same people who approved it in the first place I see a problem looming out there...

      If not, why don't we fire all the current patent reviewers and replace them with the people we hire to detect frivolousness? Then retroactively review all patents ever granted to specifically check for frivolousness that we previously could not detect due to our patent reviewers inattention to frivolousness, thus letting frivolous patents through and getting us in
      • Office is flooded (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mateo_LeFou ( 859634 )

        I'll throw out an idea. The patent office is flooded; frivolous patents are accepted because the resources aren't there to examine applications with anything near the correct level of scrutiny.

        Why is the patent office flooded Because teh potential benefits of securing a patent are significant enough to justify the cost of flooding it.

        Reduce the benefits. Scope and term. 5 year term for most patents; 2 years for software if you really don't think we can live without software patents. 0 years for "business

        • I believe it should be a increasing fee for each patent per year.
          1st patent is free,
          2nd is $100,
          3rd is $200,
          4th is $400,
          5th is $800,
          6th is $1600,
          etc.

          That way you have to pick only a few really good things to patent per year or the cost is too much.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ubergrendle ( 531719 )
      legal rule through popular vote results in tyranny of the majority. your penalties are excessively harsh too, for an activity that does no physical harm to another human being.

      i agree with your principle, however, of some form of penalty for frivolous patents. Perhaps a ban on filing future patents for a period of time?

      a patent review would be a good start. a faster expiry on patents would also be beneficial.
    • Let me see, the options are FPMITA prison or "Lemon Cookie" let us ponder that for a bit.

      {Jepordy music plays in background}

      I bet most of these guys are thinking they probably don't even have cookies in prison and their worn-out asses would probably look big in an adult diaper. So I'm thinkin' they'll take the lemon cookie.

      I mean, that what *I* would do.

  • Applause (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <{wgrother} {at} {optonline.net}> on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:07AM (#16199617) Journal
    Rapid advances in technology and the rise of industries like software, biotechnology and nanotechnology have resulted in a steep increase in patent applications in recent years. With limited resources, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has been overwhelmed, patent experts say.

    And so IBM is taking this bold step and should be commended for its actions. Clearly the USPTO is in over its head thanks to the explosion of technology (brought about in no small part by IBM) and it takes a forward-thinking company to put this stuff out there and risk losing some of their competitive edge. I'm just wondering if this might prove more of a trigger for lawsuits as other comapnies peruse these patent applications looking for infringements on their current patents?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by anandsr ( 148302 )
      Just remember why they are doing this. They believe that congress is slowly but surely moving towards patent reform. And they hope that this step would help to quell the fears of congress and avoid the reform.
      They are no way interested in reducing the number of patents they want to obtain every year. They are getting the most patents in any given year, and ofcourse by definition they must be getting the most number of frivolous patents also in any given year.
      There is no need for applause till they lobby for
      • They are getting the most patents in any given year, and ofcourse by definition they must be getting the most number of frivolous patents also in any given year.

        That assumes that all patents have an equal chance of being frivolous, which is not necessarily true. For example, I'll wager that patents applied for by Infinium Labs are much more likely to be frivolous than those applied for by IBM.

      • They are no way interested in reducing the number of patents they want to obtain every year. They are getting the most patents in any given year, and ofcourse by definition they must be getting the most number of frivolous patents also in any given year.

        What crack are you smoking? Just because they get the most patents in no way shape or form means they get the most frivolous patents. To claim that is "by definition" is idiotic. Suppose we have 100,000 patents filed a year, 30% of which are "frivolous", g

  • It's not just IBM (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Phantom of the Opera ( 1867 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:12AM (#16199675) Homepage

    I.B.M. is one of several companies that have agreed to submit some patent applications for open peer review as part of the project, beginning early next year. The others include Microsoft, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Intel and Red Hat.

    The above-mentioned corporations do all skilled legal staff but patent litigation is not their business. IBM and GE in particular have expertise that allow them to follow through on their patents. Any "copy-cats" would have difficulty producing products from many of the more esoteric, high tech or highly process oriented technologies these companies have to offer.

    If patent finding publishing becomes widespread, it will give companies the legal footing to allow them to concentrate on creating technology rather than split hairs over buzzwords. We see an aligning of real innovators against those who simply gamble that some court will award them money like mana from heaven.
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) *

      Any "copy-cats" would have difficulty producing products from many of the more esoteric, high tech or highly process oriented technologies these companies have to offer.

      If patent finding publishing becomes widespread...

      You are aware that this (i.e., getting people to publish inventions in a clear and reproducible manner) is what patents are supposed to be doing, right? I think we ought to fix the mechanism we already have...

      • The whole world is not like software design. Even if I gave you a clear description of how to manufacture 300 layer thin film optical features you would not be able to do it without a few years of work. You need highly specialized and expensive equipment, exotic materials and a good deal of energy. It also helps to have expertise and experience. You would have to know what sorts of weather may adversly affect the process.

        The point of the article is that companies keep their patents completely secret until t
  • not often you see (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mackil ( 668039 ) <movie AT moviesoundclips DOT net> on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:23AM (#16199857) Homepage Journal
    It's not often you see a huge business choose to be "open" like this with the patent process. Especially considering how many business make patent trolling their main money maker. However, while it is rather commendable, I fear that it may hurt them in the long run. Most opposing companies will not be so benevolent. After all, the nice guys always lose...
    • More likely it is that IBM's legal team can clearly see where the current trend towards "patent portfolio management" by the trolls, and the formation of companies purely for the purpose of scavenging patents and/or patent applications from companies without sufficient means to resist the onslaught, is leading. IBM and a few others have the power to hopefully counter the self-destructive path that the USPTO seems to be following, by lobbying for patent reform in the US and the international arena.
  • by giafly ( 926567 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:29AM (#16199953)
    'The new policy is the result of a development process that included external as well as internal input, and is based upon a Wiki that gathered the comments and contributions of "over 50 patent and policy experts from the United States, Europe, Japan and China," offered during May and June of this year. That document can be accessed at this page [ibm.com] at the IBM site.'

    Via the ConsortiumInfo Standards Blog [consortiuminfo.org]
  • by argoff ( 142580 ) * on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:29AM (#16199955)
    In fact, they are not only anti free market, they are genocidal. Like how they held back safety devices for 20 years in automobiles while over million people died in auto accidents. Like how US pharmacuticals sued the African nations in the world court to stop making AIDS medication generics while over a million people died of AIDS. In the future 3d printers and nanotech are going to move manufacturing out of the factory and back into the home, and those who believe in patnets will want to extend the coercive power of government into every last persons life to collect royalities and revenue streams. Dont think so? Just look at what happened with copyrights - 30 years ago, no one would have believed that they would go this far either.
  • by pieterh ( 196118 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:36AM (#16200063) Homepage
    IBM's patent lawyers invented software patents in the first place. You can see what they were thinking... "we patent all our hardware, now more and more of those designs are implemented in software, so we should patent software too".

    The trouble is, there is no dividing line between a patent for microcode, and a patent for swinging a pizza. The moment you allow the definition of a software model to be patented, you open the gates to patents on every idea. It just takes time - 10 years - before the patent industry assiduously hacks every single definition, but it happens.

    IBM is now very unhappy with the patent situation. They have invested hundreds of millions (billions, probably) in their patent portfolio but it mostly covers older technology where there is less and less licensing opportunity. Meanwhile the patent business is creating record turnover, which deflates their patent portfolio.

    Yes, IBM is against business process patents. Big deal. Any business process can be reworked as a software patent. Any border that tries to separate the 'good' software patents from the 'bad' ones can be hacked until it's gone.

    The only reason large firms like IBM, SAP, and Microsoft still support the software patent model is because their patent policy is dictated by patent attornies. If the CFO or CTO was in charge, it'd be different.

    As for the suggestion that patents were "closed" before... bizarre. The whole justification for granting a patent monopoly is to reward the inventor for publishing his work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by savio13 ( 995182 )
      I can't really find anything to verify or debunk your claim. But for arguments sake, let's say IBM did invent software patent. I think this announcement is definitely a step in the right direction around software patents specifically: According to this press release from IBM [ibm.com], we've been awarded the most number of patents for 13 years running.

      Considering that IBM is asserting " that so-called business methods alone -- broad descriptions of ideas, without technical specifics -- should not be patentable.
  • As the largetst patent holder in the US, they should "just say no" to patents if they're really interested in reform.
  • Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tygerstripes ( 832644 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @10:48AM (#16200223)
    I came up with this "new" policy years ago. I think I deserve some kind of financial recognition.


    More serious note though: has this policy been influenced at all by that SCO guff? I wonder...

  • ... is "we will not patent any software".
  • IBM has also applied for Patent #: BUL541T, titled "The Open Patent Policy".
  • From the /. article:

    "Companies often try to keep patent applications private for as long as possible, to try to hide their technical intentions from rivals."

    You mean like the "Ultra-Capacitor" guys?

    Or, alternatively, did you mean something more like the "Ultra-Capacitor" guys?

    {sorry}
  • | "The others include Microsoft, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Intel and Red Hat." I would be skeptical to believe these efforts are nothing more than good faith on IBM's part to "aid" the patent system. Granted, IBM undergoes high pressure to reform patent practice (as the leading filer), I tend to believe these efforts are primarily designed merely to redirect business strategy toward the "new software structure" of high ad revenues and rapid generation of web content. NOTICE that the com
  • being that he and I mess around in the same area, lock-free programming. The problem with the patent office is that it takes a year or more to publish a patent application. On my formerly FOSS webpage atomic-ptr-plus [sourceforge.net], see the time difference between my usenet postings on RCU for preemptive threads and the patent filing, 20060130061 "Use of rollback RCU with read-side modifications to RCU-protected data structures" by McKenney and some Linux kernel guy named Russell.

    This will be interesting since I was

  • If I write a program which takes two integers as input and spits out their sum, should I be able to patent it? The reasonable answer is: no; it's just a mathematic algorithm. However, my specific implementation of the algorithm--the particular instructions to the computer of what binary digits to move around--is subject to copyright. And I believe that is all the "intellectual property" protection anyone needs. I don't want anyone using my work without permission or compensation, and copyright takes care of

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