IBM’s plans for an Intellectual Property Marketplace

I listened to a new IBM podcast on the drive home this evening – an interview with IBM vice president of technology strategy and innovation Dr Irving Wladawsky-Berger.

In it, he discusses IBM’s views on patents and the patent system – highlighting “…the importance of patent quality…” and “…how the ability to share ideas stimulates innovation”.

IBM has filed more patents than any other company for over a decade now, and that looks set to continue. I’ve even played my small part in this with a couple of files myself. Hearing arguments against software patents from various people whose views I respect has previously left me with a sense of unease about this. Are software patents unethical?

Listening to Dr. Wladawsky-Berger gave a different, and very persuasive perspective. He talked about IBM’s ideal of an intellectual property marketplace – where in an information age, intellectual property can be traded as freely as physical property is today. I don’t know if this could work, but it sounds brilliant. And the aims of “increased transparency, integrity, and mechanisms for establishing fair prices” certainly are noble aspirations.

There is a need for innovation (and the investment in research it requires) to be encouraged. There is also a need to ensure that inventions are made public – allowing future innovators to build on it, enabling a wider range of uses and even better future inventions. If the patent system was designed to provide inventors with some incentive for both of these, then it does seem that this has been lost somewhat in what the software patent system has turned into. Dr. Wladawsky-Berger makes a compelling case for a new patent system which could reinvigorate this with a system designed for today’s information age.

He has mentioned some of this – such as an open source approach to the review of patents – previously in his blog, but hearing him speak about it brought it together in a way that I hadn’t appreciated before. It was an inspiring talk, and hearing news that IBM has introduced a corporate policy not to patent business ideas without technical specifics, and is going to make our patent filings publicly available online shows that we will be trying to make it a reality.

It’s stuff like this which can make us feel proud to work for IBM.

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