An IBM software engineer sketches out a pending patent.
IBM has acquired more US patents than any other company for 23 years in a row. (Jared Lazarus/Feature Photo Service for IBM) (credit: IBM)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is bringing light to what it calls a “stupefyingly mundane” patent on e-mail technology, given not to a patent troll hiding in a small office but to one of the world’s largest technology corporations.
IBM lawyers wrangled with the US Patent and Trademark Office for years over their bizarre and alarming alternative history, in which IBM invented out-of-office e-mail—in 2010. US Patent No. 9,547,842, “Out-of-office electronic mail messaging system” was filed in 2010 and granted about six weeks ago.
The “invention” represented in the ‘842 patent is starkly at odds with the real history of technology, accessible in this case via a basic Google search.

EFF lawyer Daniel Nazer, who wrote about the ‘842 patent in this month’s “Stupid Patent of the Month” blog post, points to an article on a Microsoft publicity page that talks about quirky out-of-office e-mail culture dating back to the 1980s, when Microsoft marketed its Xenix e-mail system (the predecessor to today’s Exchange.)
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