Tuesday, December 10, 2013

IBM tried to patent its employment offshoring methods

While a lot has been written about abusive patents as basically frivolous, author Hedrick Smith reports a particularly cynical patent application on p. 286 of his 2012 book “Who Stole the American Dream?”, which I will review soon.

The patent application in question came from IBM in 2006, a “Method for identifying Human-Resource Work Content to Outsource Offshore”.  IBM would follow with another application in 2007, “Workforce Sourcing Optimizer”. 

But the USPTO made the applications public in March 2009, creating a public relations “nightmare” for IBM, which withdrew the application.  Does IBM enter a hall of shame for this one?   

Monday, December 09, 2013

Can computer programs that implement mathematical formulas be patented? SCOTUS will revisit

The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear an appeal on a case and decide whether computer software and code can normally be patented.  This sounds like something of existential importance to many companies.  The Supreme Court Blog calls this an “analytical method implemented by a computer or by a link on the Internet, entry here. The case will be Alice Corporation Pty Ltd v. CLS Bank International.
The Washington Post Switch blog, in a piece Saturday by Timothy B. Lee, mentions older Supreme Court decisions that mathematical algorithms are not eligible for patent protection on themselves.  But circuit courts and then appeals courts have ruled that code that implements algorithms could be patented. The link is here. Lee points out that most of the patents subject to trolling have been software patents.  

This reminds me of my first job, at RCA Labs in Princeton and then Indianapolis, in 1970, when we tried to code a “dynamic programming” model for an operations research problem having to do with production lines, in FORTRAN.  Machine power on the Spectra at that time was capable of running the solution.  But the theoretical legal question could have been interesting, if that code itself could have been “patented”.  

Thursday, December 05, 2013

House passes Goodlatte's Innovation Act, 325-19

The House passed the Innovation Act today, by 325-19.  The Act would impose a “loser pays” system that would stop abusive patent lawsuits from “patent trolls” who make frivolous claims, now against retailers who sell items on their own websites.  These could be serious for authors or filmmakers who sell their own work directly on the sites, as some prefer to do in the early stages of a release.
Yet, some people say that the Act will make it harder for legitimate inventor to defend real patents.
Fox News has a stoy by Gabrielle Kroll here. Kroll says that “startups” and “small business” are divided among themselves on the Act.
Intellectual Property Asset Management (IAM) had produced a con argument on the Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) bill some time back, here.
The formal bill was HR 3309, Congress link here

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Universities sometimes make strange bedfellows to patent trolls

Timothy B. Lee has a new article in the Washington Post “Switch Blog” explaining how universities are somewhat acting as strangebedfellows of patent trolls, receiving income from old patents in which they have little or no technical involvement.  Apparently, the University of California at Berkeley received income for years on the programming technology that allows the everyday practice of embedding videos on websites and blogs.  And the University of Pennsylvania and University of Utah joined Myriad in chasing income in breast cancer detection technology after the Supreme Court had rules that human genes can’t be patented.  The Nov. 30 Post article is here.
Trolls, in copyright, patent and perhaps trademark, exist because people say they need to make “real money” support families after innovation, so “buying the right” to that income seems to make “moral sense” to them.  Proposals to weaken Section 230 on the web could further weaken the ability to preclude trolling.