IBM Seeks Patent on Time Management of Meetings

Last week an IBM patent application covering an allegedly unique system and method for enhancing productivity.  I typically do not get interested in the bizarre, wacky, ridiculous patent applications that are published because all that is required to have a patent application published is the filing of something, no matter how ridiculous, and the payment of the filing fee.  My all-time favorite stupid patent application relates to a method of walking through doors, which purports to explain how to acquire sufficient hyperspace energy to pull an out of body experience necessary for walking through solid objects.  So the threshold of getting a patent application published is extremely low, and has nothing to do with whether the invention is real or works.  Nevertheless, when IBM files a patent application on something that is rather ridiculous it deserves attention for several reasons.  First, IBM has been protesting low quality patents and claiming that is a reason for needed patent reform that would make it easier to challenge issued patents.  Second, many including myself believe that the next Director of the PTO is likely going to be IBM Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, David Kappos.

On March 10, 2009, Mr. Kappos provided testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying in part:

Two significant developments arise from the failure of our patent system to adapt: the granting of low quality patents, and the adverse effects of excessive patent litigation.

High-quality patents that have been properly prepared and examined to ensure that they meet all of the legal and policy objectives of the patent system increase certainty around intellectual property rights, reduce contention and free resources to focus on innovation.  We believe the quality of patents issued in the U.S. has diminished, and that the substantial improvements needed to address this quality crisis are not possible without Congressional action.

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Before getting to patent quality, as I explained in an earlier post in more detail, while there has been an increase in the number of patent lawsuits, there has been no increase in the amount of patent trials, so it is incorrect for Mr. Kappos to say that patent disputes are not resolved through negotiation.  The charts below showing the number of patent cases terminated each year, the number of trials and the percentage of trials all shows that as a whole the courts are indeed providing an efficient mechanism for the negotiated resolution of disputes, which is what they should be doing.

With respect to low quality patents, it is a wonderful rally cry to urge the passage of patent reform legislation, but the truth is that IBM is being disingenuous.  Is Mr. Kappos asking for Congress to pass legislation that would prevent them from filing ridiculous patent applications?  Wouldn’t it simply be easier for IBM and others to stop filing ridiculous patent applications?  Kappos says that high quality patents applications increase certainty, reduce contention and free resources so that the focus can be on innovation.  Why not try by leading by example before asking for Congress to step in?

The IBM patent to promote efficiency explains that meetings scheduled for one hour are inefficient when the goals of the meeting could be accomplished in less than one hour.  Wow!  How revolutionary!  The application goes on to say that when a meeting is scheduled for one hour the meeting takes one hour, whether the full hour is required or not.  So what is needed is a method for scheduling meetings in intervals shorter than one hour.  You just can’t make this stuff up!

The broadest claim in the patent application reads:

1. A method including: defining, by a user, a time template including a plurality of predefined time intervals for scheduling meetings; and applying the time template across a collaborative system.

Illustrative of the kind of groundbreaking innovation the application covers is this excerpt from a paragraph in the Detailed Description:

[C]alendar/scheduling user interface 200 may be rendered by an email client application (e.g., email client application 22). Calendar/scheduling user interface 200 may allow user 46 to schedule meetings, appointments, events, and the like. Calendar/scheduling user interface 200 may partition each day into a plurality of time intervals (namely intervals “int 1” through “int 15”) in which meetings, appointments, events, and the like may be scheduled.

Let me be clear.  This is not a rant about the Patent Office or the handling of patent applications.  This is they very type of nonsense that forces the Patent Office to focus resources on ridiculous, obvious and stupid “inventions.”  What this is a rant on is hypocrisy.  If IBM really believes low quality patents are a problem then maybe they should focus on presenting high-quality patent applications to the Patent Office.  High quality patent applications will do far more for patent quality than anything Congress could ever dream up.


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Join the Discussion

5 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Scrappy]
    May 15, 2009 11:40 am

    Stan, perhaps you don’t get it… the PTO has issued numerous PATENTS (not singular) on the combined car and windmill thingie (charge while you drive!). It’s now a crowded field:

  • [Avatar for Mark Malek]
    Mark Malek
    May 12, 2009 10:43 am

    Wow! I wonder if they will run into any Bilski problems with independent Claim 1? Anyone picking up the sarcasm yet?

  • [Avatar for Alan McDonald]
    Alan McDonald
    May 11, 2009 03:24 pm

    How does a rant about a silly publication made by a husband and wife team become fodder for going after large corporations?

  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    May 11, 2009 02:28 pm

    This reminds me rather a lot of a *publication* issued by the USPTO that I found while doing a prior art search for wind turbines. It started sorta like:
    “While me and my husband were sitting around watching TV one night, a show came on that featured windmills, and after talking it over a bit, we decided that cars could be equipped with windmills, so that they would never need any gasoline to power them…” or something probably even sillier. I couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of the world may be thinking about *publications* of this sort, and perhaps how the mandated 18-month publications have been so badly managed, unless the inventor elects to opt out of publication, by foregoing getting a patent granted anywhere outside of the US. Is this perhaps what is meant by harmonization with the rest of the world? If so, I would opt out of the whole deal, including the First to File part of the current Patent Reform efforts, being so fervently forced upon American innovators by large corporations.

    Stan E. Delo

  • [Avatar for Alan McDonald]
    Alan McDonald
    May 11, 2009 02:03 pm

    Lotus Notes, an IBM product, has allowed meetings to be scheduled in 1/4 hour intervals forever.

    My Blackberry does the same thing.

    Gene is right. Just because someone file a patent application and the application is published by no means assumes that a patent is ever going to issue on those claims.