Patently Absurd: IBM Tries to Patent Outsourcing, Then Kills It
October 8, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Sometimes, you have to laugh so you don’t cry. Last week, Barron’s, the weekend investment rag put out by Dow Jones and the companion to the Wall Street Journal, picked up on a story in the Westchester County, New York-based News Journal that detailed a patent application that IBM filed on July 12 concerning business methods to perform technical and economic analysis and recommend outsourcing options to customers.
India is, of course, the hot spot for outsourcing in the IT sector these days. IBM already has 55,000 employees in India, having added 10,000 new jobs this year in that country, and Sam Palmisano, IBM’s chairman and chief executive officer, is very much enamored of India because of the cost savings it brings to Big Blue’s own operations as well as those for the services engagements it does for other customers in their IT operations. Westchester County, as the News Journal points out, is where IBM’s own headquarters is located and many of its facilities are scattered around the county, which is north of New York City. Those IBM facilities have around 7,500 employees today–far fewer than IBM has in India, which had only a little over 9,000 IBMers four years ago. IBM has over 355,000 employees worldwide, and its presence in India is significant. These kinds of statistics make some people, who think IBM should do more employing back here in the States or in Europe, a bit crazy.
In this case, IBM immediately came under some heat because of the lameness of the patent application and the fact that it was trying to patent the act of helping people outsource. And it immediately started backpedaling and explaining its actions. Bob Sutor, vice president of open source and standards at IBM, put out the following statement on his personal blog, an official communication medium, apparently.
“IBM has put into the public domain and withdrawn its application for patent number US2007/0162321–Outsourcing of Services. This patent application covers analyzing work flows, skills, economic costs, etc. 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.”
So now we can all figure out how to outsource our own jobs with a rigorous and professional methodology–and do so for free. I feel much better now. At least there is one less stupid patent in the world, and IBM deserves some credit for that.