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March 3, 2017

IBM wins Stupid Patent of the Month Award

Big Blue picks up patent for an out-of-office system - something which certainly isn't new to office workers around the world.

By Ellie Burns

IBM has been awarded a patent for its out-of-office email system, a move described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF) as stupid patent of the month.

The ‘invention’, awarded in January, will not be enforced by Big Blue, with the tech giant promising that it would ‘dedicate the patent to the public.’

IBM said in a statement that it had notified the US Patent Office “that it foregoes its rights to the patent. As a result, the patent is released into the public domain”.

While the EEF welcomed the news that IBM will not enforce its patent, the digital rights group did outline why IBM had won its Stupid Patent of the Month award:

United States Patent No. 9,547,842 (the ’842 Patent),“Out-of-office electronic mail messaging system,” traces its history to an application filed back in 2010. That means it supposedly represents a new, non-obvious advance over technology from that time. But, as many office workers know, automated out-of-office messages were a “workplace staple” decades before IBM filed its application. The Patent Office is so out of touch that it conducted years of review of this application without ever discussing any real-world software.”

The IBM patent’s only difference to existing out-of-office systems is that it automatically notifies people a few days before a person goes on holiday, allowing people to prepare for a colleagues absence. Describing the slight difference as ‘trivial’, the EEF said:

“From a technological perspective, this is a trivial change to existing systems. Indeed, it is like asking for a patent on the idea of sending a postcard, not from a vacation, but to let someone know you will go on a vacation.”

IBM notched up 8,088 US patents, which works out to 22 patents per day, in 2016. Setting a US patent record, IBM researchers, engineers, and designers generated more than 1,100 inventions in the cognitive computing space alone, with Ginni Rometty, IBM chairman, president and CEO saying at the time:

“We are deeply proud of our inventors’ unique contributions to discovery, science and technology that are driving progress across business and society and opening the new era of cognitive business.”

READ MORE: IBM sets US patent record with cognitive computing, cloud and AI inventions

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