Monday, October 30, 2006

IBM patent policy: apparent schizophrenia?

Of the apparent disparity between IBM efforts in patent reform and IBM's patent suit against Amazon, InformationWeek has the following quote:

IBM's top attorney for intellectual property rights acknowledges his company's position can seem contradictory and confusing. "We've referred to our patent policy as apparent schizophrenia," David Kappos says. Yet he maintains that "on a deeper level, our actions are consistent."

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Tech vendors, IBM and Microsoft principal among them, are trying to change things they don't like about the patent process. In addition to giving away patents to the open source community, IBM wants all patent applications to be subject to public review. And it's urging Congress to do away with patents--including some of its own--based on so-called business methodologies that lack technical merit.

But in suing Amazon, IBM promised to "aggressively defend" its intellectual property and hunt down other companies it thinks are using its IP without permission. IBM says it tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a licensing deal with Amazon for four years before filing suit. Amazon declined to comment.

The Information Week article also contains the following:

U.S. Patent And Trademark Office
Proposes limiting to 10 the number of times patent applicants can request a re-examination of their applications and the number of individual patent claims contained in any single application

IPBiz asks: is anyone awake at Information Week? Or have they joined with Science in dispensing pure glop about patent law (see 88 JPTOS 743)?

Yes, there is a reference to Lerner: "There are some pathologies in the system that need to be dealt with," Harvard Business School professor Josh Lerner says. "Patents have become too powerful and too easy to get" for an economy that's increasingly information-based, Lerner says.

Yes, Information Week does note the dichotomy with IBM: IBM's strategy is to be an IP benefactor to the tech industry when it's in IBM's interest, while staunchly defending its IP rights at other times. That's hardly reassuring to entrepreneurs and startups that risk a run-in with IBM as they develop new products. IBM holds about 40,000 patents worldwide for everything from how to display ads online to the creation of an Internet checkout system. IBM patents cover "most of, if not all, e-commerce," senior VP John Kelly told The Wall Street Journal last week.

Yes, there is further confusion about the patent system: What's setting off alarms in some quarters is the fact that personalized recommendation systems are widely used, and they can be generated in a number of different ways. "These kind of lawsuits hurt our whole industry," says Mary Hodder, CEO of, an online video-sharing service. She thinks the patent process needs tightening to prevent what she considers a proliferation of nuisance suits. "Most of the patents they grant are really for simple and basic concepts and ideas, not complex and innovative processes, which is what they're supposed to be allowing," Hodder says.

Yes, there is mention of Rivette: Last year, IBM hired Boston Consulting Group patent expert Kevin Rivette as VP for intellectual property. Rivette is author of Rembrandts In The Attic (Harvard Business School Press, 1999), a primer on how companies can profit from their IP assets. Palmisano created a technology and intellectual property unit within IBM under senior VP Kelly, dedicated to finding new markets for the fruits of its research.

There is discussion of the Peer-to-patent project: Other critics suggest the vendors' moves are aimed at cementing their advantages at a time when they face rising competition from startups. In an August essay, Harvard Law School professor and tech entrepreneur James Moore argued that the collaborative patent review process proposed by IBM, Microsoft, and others will result in fewer patents being issued because it will give examiners more ammunition to shoot down applications. "If fewer patents are issued, but existing patents are not revoked, IBM and Microsoft win because they already possess vast existing portfolios," Moore writes.

IPBiz notes: It is already true that fewer patents are being issued. Further, the re-examination process is still around.

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Blogger Unknown said...

"Despite its etymology, schizophrenia is not the same as dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder or split personality, with which it has been erroneously confused.", as Wikipedia's "schizophrenia" article notes. Schizophrenia is a serious illness. Using the term in this joking and inaccurate fashion is offensive to the people whose lives it affects.

6:05 PM  

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