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IBM exec: U.S. could learn from EU, China on intellectual property

Says U.S. is too lax in approving patents

By Robert McMillan
April 7, 2005 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. should look to regions like China and the European Union for ways to improve intellectual property (IP) policy or it runs the risk of driving business out of the country, an IBM executive said yesterday at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco.
Describing the U.S. patent policy as "lousy," Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM's vice president of technology and strategy, said the U.S. Patent Office has been simply too lax in granting patents. "Any idiot can get a patent for something that should never be granted a patent," he said in a keynote address.
Citing the EU and China as two regions where patents are given more scrutiny than in the U.S., Wladawsky-Berger said, "Maybe the U.S. has a thing or two to learn from how those governments are treating IP to enable innovation."
Frivolous patent lawsuits could ultimately prove to be such an impediment to business that they could drive companies out of the U.S., Wladawsky-Berger said in an interview after his keynote address.
He stopped short of calling for a complete overhaul of the U.S. patent and copyright systems. "We just need to improve the patent law to make it more strict," he said.
IBM is one of the largest patent holders in the U.S. The company has been the largest recipient of U.S. patents for the past 12 years, according to a report published by IFI Claims Patent Services in Wilmington, Del. IBM was awarded 3,277 patents last year, according to the research.
The company has a history of using its vast patent portfolio to defend itself in litigation. In the past few years, it has included patent claims in countersuits against The SCO Group Inc. and Compuware Corp.
But recently, IBM has loosened its grip on its patent portfolio. In January, the company made 500 of its software patents available to open-source developers. The giveaway covered such areas as technology to help microprocessors access memory and handwriting recognition.
The changes at IBM reflect a new, less proprietary approach to working with open-source communities -- something that is now becoming standard in the high-tech business, Wladawsky-Berger said.
Open-source is "changing the culture of every single business, or at least every business that wants to make sure they are still a business 10 years from now," he said. "If you really want to tap into the communities out there, you need to balance your proprietary approach to IP ... with a much more collaborative approach."

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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