That IBM has filed a patent is hardly ever news. Big Blue filed 3,651 patents last year, making it the U.S. patent winner for the 14th year in a row.
But an application filed with the U.S. Patent Office in 2003 by two members of the IBM Global Services benchmarking team has caught the attention of some in the industry. The patent is for “a process and computer program product for adjusting a price derived from a benchmark computer service model to a price of a computer service contract, or vice versa.” In other words, they are trying to patent the benchmarking process itself, observes Adam Strichman, senior partner at research and benchmarking company Nautilus Advisors.
“It’s like trying to patent breathing,” he says.
Indeed, the patent is so broad that, if granted, it could give IBM the power to sue benchmarkers whenever they do their work, say analysts. “If IBM wanted to shut down the benchmarkers, it could easily put $10 million in a pot for legal expenses and shut them all down,” says David Perara, director of IT indicators and metrics for research company Government Insights.
Alan Yamamoto, who led IBM’s global benchmarking team until recently, says everyone’s making too much of the application. “IBM personnel are encouraged to file for patents when they invent stuff,” says Yamamoto, to whom the patent applicants reported. “We developed some processes that were innovative and merited invention status.” He denies that the patent is designed to kill or take over the industry. IBM’s process is different from other benchmarkers’, he says. “There are no standards in this industry,” says Yamamoto. “There’s not [only] one way of skinning this cat.”