IBM dedicates ‘stupefyingly mundane’ OOO email patent to public after ridicule

The company applied for it in 2010, despite the fact the system has existed for decades

Aatif Sulleyman
Thursday 02 March 2017 14:23 GMT
IBM has announced that it will forego its rights to the patent
IBM has announced that it will forego its rights to the patent (Getty)

IBM and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) are facing criticism after the technology giant was recently granted a patent for the out-of-office email system.

The company applied for the patent in 2010, despite the fact the OOO email system has existed for decades.

The technology has been described as “stupefyingly mundane” by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) staff attorney Daniel Nazer, who has given it the Stupid Patent of the Month award for February.

“When the out of office agent is enabled, it automatically responds to e-mail that arrives when the user is out of the office,” reads the patent description.

“While configuring the agent, the user can specify the text of the message, and set rules on who should receive the special alert messages or who should not receive the alert messages.”

It was granted on 17 January, but the EFF argues that it shouldn’t have been, considering the 2014 verdict of the Supreme Court's Alice Corp. vs CLS Bank International case, which ruled that some software concepts are too abstract to even be eligible for a patent.

“[The Patent Office] never considered any of the many, many, existing real-world systems that pre-dated IBM’s application,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Daniel Nazer.

An IBM spokesperson has since told Ars Technica that it will forego its rights to the patent.

“IBM has decided to dedicate the patent to the public,” it said.

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