IBM Gets Patent on “Out-Of-Office” E-Mail Messages

Discussion in 'HardForum Tech News' started by Megalith, Mar 2, 2017.

  1. Megalith

    Megalith 24-bit/48kHz Staff Member

    Aug 20, 2006
    The next time you set up an auto-response in your e-mail client to let everyone know you’re going on vacation, you should thank IBM for inventing the radical feature. That, at least, is what the United States Patent and Trademark Office believes, as they have granted the company a patent for out-of-office messages. After some supposed criticism, IBM has been kind enough not to enforce the patent. I wonder if the USPTO will give them an exclusive license for using the color blue next.

    You might think that a patent examiner faced with a patent application on an out-of-office email system might look at some real out-of-office email solutions. But the examiner considered only patents and patent applications. The Patent Office spent years going back-and-forth on whether IBM’s claims where new compared to a particular 2006 patent application. But it never considered any of the many, many, existing real-world systems that pre-dated IBM’s application. To take just one example, the Patent Office never considered this detailed specification from 1998 (PDF) from IBM describing the out-of-office agent in Notes. Nor did it consider other well-known email features like scheduling and signatures. If the Patent Office had taken a peek at the real world, and applied a modicum of common-sense, it would have quickly rejected IBM’s claims.
  2. And this is the problem with the patent system....
    cyclone3d, endalykt and Nytegard like this.
  3. Todd Walter

    Todd Walter Gawd

    May 10, 2016
    IBM might have been the first; the PROFS system let you identify if you were in or out back in the early 80s and it was WV from IBM Research who created postfix as a sendmail alternative. Either one of their lawyers got bored or they might be doing this to give themselves a lever to pull in a different case.
  4. NeoNemesis

    NeoNemesis 2[H]4U

    Mar 10, 2004
    Maybe I'm wrong, but even if IBM did this in the 80s and even if Alice hadn't put the kybosh on patents like this, I'm pretty sure you can't patent something that's been in the wild for 30 plus years.
  5. InorganicMatter

    InorganicMatter [H]ardForum Junkie

    Oct 19, 2004
    This article is awful.

    First, the headline and opening paragraphs act like the solution from the '842 patent has been done before.

    After posturing with outrage for a few paragraphs, they then completely contradict their headline and opening salvo, and admit that it actually hasn't been done before: "The only arguably new feature it claims is automatically notifying correspondents a few days before a vacation so that they can prepare in advance for a coworker’s absence."

    Having made this admission, they then assert that "From a technological perspective, this is a trivial change to existing systems." This is not a correct statement of the law of obviousness.

    Next, they go off on a subject matter eligibility rabbit trail where they mix up the different types of § 101 rejections.

    Finally, after misstating the fact that the '842 patent has been done before and getting the laws of subject matter eligibility and obviousness completely wrong, they conclude the article with vague calls for "patent reform."

    I give it a grade of 2/10. Try harder, EFF.
  6. dethklokworkorange

    dethklokworkorange Limp Gawd

    Jul 23, 2013
    Wonder if this is more of defensive move, to ward off potential patent trolls? It never ceases to amaze me how a system designed to promote innovation has been subverted to accomplish the opposite.
  7. Rahh

    Rahh [H]ard|Gawd

    Jan 14, 2005
    Yup! Sad times!