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IBM drops attempt to patent outsourcing

Patent stupidity

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IBM has abandoned a ludicrous attempt to patent outsourcing after an internet outcry.

Big Blue submitted this highly original invention to the US Patent office in January 2006. Its principal claim was for "a method for identifying human-resource work content to outsource offshore of an organisation".

The application was noticed at the weekend by Slashdotters, who lambasted the move by the world's most prolific patenter.

IBM's open source and standards veep Bob Sutor posted this sheepish company statement on his blog last night:

Here's why we are withdrawing it - IBM adopted a new policy a year ago to sharply reduce business method patent filings and instead stress significant technical content in its patents.

Even though the patent application in question was filed eight months before the policy took effect in September, 2006, had the policy been in place at the time, IBM would not have filed the application. We're glad the community pointed this application out so IBM could take swift action.

As we've noted recently, the US patent system is subject of a fierce debate as a reform bill wends its way through Congress. The main thrust of the reform is to cut down on frivolous patents. It's backed by big IT lobby group the Business Software Alliance, whose members include, er, IBM.

So fear not, Indian call centre workers, even though having a call centre in India might have been IBM's idea, it's benevolent enough to let you keep putting your electrical engineering PhD to good use. ®

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