IBM Wants To Change The Patent System, But Before They Do, They Might As Well Sue Everyone

from the they've-patented-the-internet dept

There's a famous old story about IBM accusing Sun of patent infringement back in the 1980s, when Sun was still a small company. IBM sent a bunch of lawyers with a list of patents that they claimed Sun infringed on. Sun's team looked over the patents and pointed out how most weren't valid and the ones that were, Sun didn't infringe on at all. The response from the lawyers? "OK, maybe you don't infringe these seven patents. But we have 10,000 U.S. patents. Do you really want us to go back to Armonk [IBM headquarters in New York] and find seven patents you do infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us $20 million?" This is still one of the more popular examples of "patent extortion" our there, though it happens all the time with firms that don't necessarily have 10,000 patents. Anyway, in more recent years it had seemed that IBM had softened a bit on patents, recognizing that they can do quite a bit of damage -- though, that still hasn't stopped them from applying for and getting a huge number of patents every year. However, for all their newfound "openness" on patents, it seems they still can send in the lawyers to companies and demand payment.

Damon writes in to point out that they've sued Amazon over a bunch of fairly obvious and excessively broad patents. If you look through the patents, they seem to basically describe nearly everything that you might see on the internet today, from presenting an application online to storing data on a network to presenting an ad online to presenting weighted hyperlinks to organizing items in an online catalog. Broad enough for you? They could basically sue just about any online company with this batch of patents, nearly all of which never should have gotten passed the "obviousness" test (oh, that's right, the USPTO doesn't do an obviousness test, despite it being required by the Constitution). IBM, however, brushes off complaints about these patents claiming they're "high-quality patents" and "to not enforce our patent rights would be a discredit to those who fairly and lawfully use these licenses." Let me get that straight. Because you've suckered some people into licensing your extremely broad and obvious patents, you need to sue everyone else just to be fair?


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    True Believer, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 12:39pm

    LOL

    When in doubt: sue, sue, sue!
    It's the American way

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Ryan, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 1:02pm

    sue back

    Amazon should just sue back.

    Technically, they own any AJAX style web form with their "forms that change based on previous selections" patent... and can you buy anything from IBM with one click?

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    jarbulor, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 1:03pm

    Duh

    i all can hear from my friends is, i can sue that bastard, so damm annoying...

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    N, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 1:13pm

    I have a good one!

    Can I put a patent on breating air? Or if thats too obvious how about breathing air while standing on two (and possibly more) legs?

    Obviously companies are successful at this type of activity otherwise it would be bad business. I need to start a company that only sues people. Maybe I'll sue people just for being people.

    These kinds of things make us Americans look greedy and stupid. Thanks for helping to establish that image across the world IBM and all you others who find it necessary to blame others for everything else. I hope your toes fall off (can I get sued for that comment?).

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    an ex-IBMer, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 1:41pm

    Obvious

    One of my old managers at IBM had his name on a patent that covered the use of a wire as a conductor, resistor, inductor and capacitor...

    I wonder how much money that patent earned them...

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Nobody Special, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 4:37pm

    no sympathy

    Sorry, I have no sympathy for Amazon getting a good dose of their own medicine. And this could be a great way to show that the system needs to be revamped.

    For some reason people in the tech world think that politics follow rules of logic. They simply don't for various reasons. And in its own sort of way this kind of thing is the perfect vehicle to show that the patent system needs an overhaul.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    rico, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 5:42pm

    Re: Obvious

    even IBM has a patent that say water can be used as the energy source for computer.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 6:17pm

    does someone hold a patent for purchasing products through paper-printed catalogs?

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    mousepaw, Oct 24th, 2006 @ 2:27am

    I need my umbrella

    Is it me, or is this story a lot like the one about the tax firm patenting their tax programs? Or the one about making somebody else's content more valuable? There seems to be a common denominator: staking a claim with no apparent leg to stand on but nobody is doing anything about it.

    The internet is growing faster than the industrial revolution did but there isn't any way to establish enforceable rules for it. Before the internet, everything was on paper and easily legislated. There was a modicum of integrity. Now people/companies can do anything they want and be anyone they want. Can that be policed?

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Richard corsale, Oct 24th, 2006 @ 5:41am

    WTF?!

    * US 5,796,967 - Presenting Applications in an Interactive Service.
    Thats Hotmail, Yahoo mail, and well anyone with a tag on there site

    * US 5,442,771 - Storing Data in an Interactive Network.
    All search engines, and well database applications

    * US 7,072,849 - Presenting Advertising in an Interactive Service.
    All commercial sites , and site services

    * US 5,446,891 - Adjusting Hypertext Links with Weighted User Goals and Activities.
    Ebay, Yahoo, MSN, all ad networks and everything that involves customer history.

    * US 5,319,542 - Ordering Items Using an Electronic Catalogue.
    Heheh I don't even have to say it.


    Listen, this is clearly just a way of grabing headlines , or (to think a little more diabolicly) a way to short sell the company's stock right before the PR and to buy it at the bottom as they know .. that these patents are going to get tossed out. Theres lots of money to be made. One way or the other :).

     

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  11.  
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    Patently Absurd, Oct 24th, 2006 @ 10:55am

    What To Do

    The USPTO reflects what the people who pay them (Congress) want them to. If you don't like how the USA is now run for the benefit of companies wealthy enough to crush anything their way, please vote the incumbents out! It's pretty much all you can do.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Boyan Josic, Oct 24th, 2006 @ 5:34pm

    Innovation vs. Extortion

    This is a very tricky issue. As an executive at a company that is always pushing innovation, and trying to find new products and technologies, you really want a good patent system, to protect your investment. A good patent system encourages innovation.

    On the other hand, IBM seems to have a patent on everything. They already bring in a little over $1B in yearly revenue coming from licensing agreements stemming from their patents. The argument that a lot of their patents, mostly the internet related ones are broad, are very valid. Most of these were probably issued when the Internet was in its infancy stage, and there should be a way for them to be re-examined. Because in their current portfolio, IBM could make a case vs. any company using a shopping cart and checkout system online, and we know that's not going to fly.

    Boyan
    http://boyanjosic.com

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Andy, Nov 2nd, 2006 @ 10:49pm

    Re: sue back

    LOL that might've worked, but see it's too bad for amazon because i'm sure IBM though of that. Example: the ability to change hyperlinks based open customized user info, I'm pretty certain (broad as it is) would cover and void the patent on ajax-like stuff that Amazon may hold. Which is older? I'm certain IBM's patent is LOL. Anyways...all of Amazons activities could be construed as having being in violation of IBMs patents from the very start of the company.
    Ironic, I wonder if google licenses on of those IBM patents, or if IBM will be ballsy enough to go after them next for weighted hyperlinks???

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Andy, Nov 2nd, 2006 @ 10:52pm

    Re: I have a good one!

    LOL, you probably can get sued for that comment, but anyways...sorry to break the news, while IBM holds US patents, and have offices here, they are technically not a USA owned business. It's not really the Americans who are greedy in this case, we're just the ones who are stupid enough to throw our money out to the international business machines of the world!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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