back to article IBM tries to patent offshoring

Two years ago, red-faced IBM executives ordered a patent application on offshoring jobs to be withdrawn. Last week it returned, more sophisticated than ever. The latest application, describes how to weigh various constraints, such as lack of a skilled workforce, against incentives such as tax breaks. It's called a "Method and …

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Joke

This is brilliant...

now all IBM have to do is charge a patent fee which is exactly the same amount as whatever company would save by offshoring... bingo! All our jobs are magically saved!

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Joke

How do I......

Get on this Gravy train?

"In the US, both algorithms and business methods can be patented, provided they fulfill a (very short) list of requirements."

I have a load of ideas that might meet the (very short) list of requirements, such as:

Method and system for cutting costs by freezing pay while at the same time allowing big bonuses to be paid to all senior board members

Method and system for cutting costs by laying off some workers while at the same time making those who are left feel happy they still have a job so they pick up the slack thus allowing big bonuses to be paid to all senior board members

I could go on and on

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Stop

Prior art....

....called Bean Counters...

or even the Romans.. Cheaper to use foreign slaves than home grown workers....

just shows how shit the patent system is...

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Go

Thank you Robert Ramsay!

My initial reaction to reading this article was - WTF?!? And my usual reaction to such greedy patent posturing is one of outrage and a deep and spiritual loathing of the idiocies of modern intellectual property law. I clicked into this comment section intending to post a savage rant about IBM's greed and an oath never to buy their products again; but after reading your post I saw how sometimes an ill-conceived system can work in our favour... so now I second you on that comment. Here's hoping IBM actually get it - and impose a patent fee just as you describe! Yes, payback's a bitch for all those sweatshop-exploiting corporations, indeed!

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I have one too

"Method and sytem for personal displacement through lower limbs utilization"

Woooooh...

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Anonymous Coward

@Robert Ramsay

There is prior art that invalidates a patent on offshoring. This is about testing whether offshoring would be profitable. I am not convinced that there is any prior art for that. PHB's can still send jobs abroad without infringing IBM's patent as long as they do not check to see if it would save them money first. Business as usual then.

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How far can you go?

Can I patent a method of determining which business processes can be patented in order to make money as a parasite on commerce and industry? If so, I'll have rights over all derivative works - woohoo!

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good grief

"In the US, both algorithms and business methods can be patented, provided they fulfill a (very short) list of requirements."

indeed. Prior art definately not being one of them.

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Bilski

In actual fact, the US Patent Office has got a lot tougher on algorithms and business methods. Look up "Bilski", a Federal Circuit court judgment that established a new "machine or transformation" test for patentable processes.

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RW

Time to re-regulate the US patent system

And anyway, how is anyone supposed to tell if your company is using IBM's patented "method and system"? Balancing costs vs benefits (which is what this patent sounds like, when boiled down to its essentials) is a fundamental aspect of business, carried out every day by millions of people in many different ways. Try and find them all!

Is IBM going to examine the operations of every Kazakh sidewalk vendor of curried squid innards for evidence of infringement?

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it breached an IBM policy

Yes...it failed on the following counts:

Does it make lots of money...that's a must.

Does it screw lots of workers...that's a must.

Does it make for big exec bonuses...that's a must.

Repaired all three...all fixed now, innit?

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Anonymous Coward

Patent evasion...

US business patents aren't enforceable outside the US, right? So why no just move the decision-making function for offshoring... offshore?

If you're not implementing a realisation of the patent in the US you're OK, surely?

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@Patent Evasion

oops, nearly forgot to file my patent application:

the process of deciding if your decision on weather to offshort the decision making process should be offshored using the cost of offshoring the offshoring of the offshoring decision process *stack overflow*

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Go

AC 15:31

AC wrote "PHB's can still send jobs abroad without infringing IBM's patent as long as they do not check to see if it would save them money first. "

Ah but _my_ PHB's are busy extooling the virtues (to _my_ customers) of sending my work to some slop shop in India. In which case (surely?) they must have carried out such a (hopefully IBM patent infringing) study. Either that or - as I and others suspect - the point-hairs are just making these figures up as they go along.

Roll on the blessed day when Big Blue sends in a crack Intellectual Property Enforcement Squad to beat up another certain large maker of all things computer-related (oh, and happen to also do this outsourcing trash this month). You know, large company, in California, has a two letter name. ;) In which case here's one El Reg reader who will be LMFAO.

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@Patent Evasion

did you file a patent application on deciding weather to offshore the off-shoring decision process using a combination of factors such as additional costs of off-shoring the process vs the cost of acquiring the patent licenses to be able to perform the decision making process within the US?

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Anonymous Coward

haha

"There is prior art that invalidates a patent on offshoring."

Yes, there own failed/withdrawn appliaction. By patenting it they put it out into the public, you cannot patent anythign that you have publically disclosed and the failed patent was disclosed!

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@RW

Kazakh curried squid innards... Yum. Where can I get some? they don't have those in Waitrose.

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Boffin

RE: SynnerCal

I had an interesting chat with an HR geezer from a certain comapny based around the Palo Alto area a few years back as to why they were offshoring a lot of support, I'm sure it covers other areas of IT companies as well. The problem wasn't as advertised that support costs in the US and EMEA were high when they employed highly-skilled peeps. The reality was they had a problem attracting highly-skilled peeps in the boom years as the highly-skilled peeps had realised they could get twice as much working for customers. The Europeans tried taking lowly-skilled grads and training them up to replace the highly-skilled peeps, the only problem being the grads soon got tired of being lowly-paid and usually jumped ship to the customers, who were happy to pick up new staff without having to pay training costs.

Meanwhile, in the States, they tried snagging foriegn skilled peeps with H1b visas and paid them what they paid the same skilled US peeps. Problem was, as soon as the H1b term was up, the now experienced and smart Indians/Pakistanis either jumped ship to better paying customers or departed back home. The latter was puzzling - why did they leave well-paid jobs to go back to their "under-developed" countries, surely they would want to stay in the US? Turns out the Indians/Pakistanis could go home with their new skills/experience, get good jobs that paid half the equivalent US wage, but live twice as luxuriously due to the lower cost of living, and without the culture-shock of living in the US. At which point the penny dropped.

All the big vendors suddenly realised they could employ the lowly-skilled Indian/Pakistani grads, train them up and employ them overseas for half what they paid US/EMEA engineers, and without the expense and hassle of the visa process. It even cost less to build and staff offices abroad, giving them new resources for attacking emerging markets. And the staff retention rate was massively higher than US or EMEA rates as the customers in India and Pakistan couldn't match the pay offered by the vendors, who were willing to pay over the top as they saw a saving over employing an equivalent person in the US or Europe.

I even know two Brits that left to work for the same company's office in India, and even after events like the recent Mumbai terrorist attack, they still say they would not consider returning to the UK, their level of living is so much better. As an example, they have a live-in maid for less than $50-a-month that does all the cooking, laundry, shopping, housekeeping, and nanny duties. Their gardener is even cheaper. Their Indian neighbour nags them for paying their staff too much! Maybe we should all be looking to learn Spanish, Urdu, Chinese or Malay, and start looking for those foreign jobs.

On the patent angle of the story, I think this ludicrous patent will either be shot down by prior art, or have to tie IBM to such a tight process that even the slightest deviation will mean it is not applicable. I can't see why IBM have gone to the trouble, given the bad publicity, unless they really do have some magic outsourcing process/formula they think gives them such an advantage they really don't want it being copied by a competitor.

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And then...

Now they have to patent the reverse process (get money out of companies shutting down their offshore operations), another for the business process of operating out of a building, another could be having a company website.... etc....

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Joke

I'd like to..

..patent the process of checking a patent for prior art

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Happy

Suggestions to IBM

IBM should also be allowed to patent stupid executive decisions, executive over compensation, platinum parachutes and embezzlement.

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Unhappy

@ Matt Bryant

Yes, the only thing they could not train them on was speaking proper, conversational US or GB English so that you could effectively communicate and understand them. This is a continued, ongoing failure which accounts for much of the frustration and anger of folks who get the off-short help desk sorts. Sad, really.....

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Happy

RE: @ Matt Bryant

Totally agree. I also find that offshore staff are much quicker to just throw replacement parts at a problem rather than doing proper trouble-shooting and finding the real cause, which must defeat any cost-savings gained by outsourcing in the first place.

Another fun story relates to a consultant in India that bid for the contract of finding staff for a certain high-tech vendor (not the same one, I'm afraid), that won the contract through being the cousin of the brother of the company's local HR man. His only problem was he could find lots of applicants, it was just that none of them could meet the requirement of passing the written English test. Being a smart cookie, our intrepid consultant decided to offer money to English tourists following the hippy trail to stop off and teach his applicants. Pretty soon, he found a couple of tech grads on their year out and short of a few rupees, and he started them teaching his guys a crash course in conversational English. Unfortunately, both the grads happened to be from Newcastle, and whilst they passed the local test, customers from the US were very put out by calls being answered in a mixed Gujarati-Geordie accent, with such phrases as "alreet, if ya dinna knaa, gan deeks don t' back of ya box and tell ya met wha the serial number is" thrown in for good measure!

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