Historically, IBM has held several records for the number of patent applications filed in a single year. In January 2010, for instance, CNET News announced that Big Blue was 2009's patent "champ," with a total of 4,914 patents. Even more impressive, however, was the fact that 2009 marked the 17th year in a row that IBM came out on top in the patent count.
It's a bit too early yet to determine whether 2010 will be year number 18 for the Armonk, New York-based company, but its engineers made the news this week anyhow. And when I first saw the headline, I stopped to make sure the calendar hadn't already flipped to April 1.
"IBM Files Application to Patent The Patent Process," Tom's Hardware reported Monday. What? My coworker joked that it looked like a story The Onion would publish.
I was certainly skeptical. But a few clicks later, I found the actual filing. And I think Conceivably Tech's Wolfgang Gruener is right. It's not the process IBM wants to patent, but a method for automating the management of intellectual property and the disputes that come with it. The end result could well be a new software suite with which companies could defend their portfolios against patent trolls.
But like other observers noted, the fact that it is remotely possible to patent the patent process certainly indicates that the current patent system needs serious work.