back to article IBM solves world's 'paper or plastic' crisis

Since the dawn of history, mankind has been plagued by an unnecessary burden whilst grocery shopping at their neighborhood supermarket: telling the cashier whether they prefer a paper or plastic bag. Precious moments are squandered. Moments better spent reading the collected works of Spinoza, curing cancer, building shelters …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We live at the dawn of a new age

    Now for the big question - why have no UK supermarkets introduced those strong brown paper bags you get in US stores?

  2. Sam
    Thumb Down


    "(Dear pedantic readers: yes, this model takes place in a vacuum. And you know what? I'm not even sorry.)"

    The speed of light does not vary because of the presence, or lack of an atmosphere.

    Sound (as in "how do you want it wrapped?") however, relies on an atmosphere.

    This however, is totally irrelevant as in the United Kingdom the stuff gets wrapped however, and the shopper has fucking better things to do than be slowed down by stupid fucking questions.

    Bad day, was it?

  3. Kevin Crisp

    Re: What?

    "The speed of light does not vary because of the presence, or lack of an atmosphere."

    Yes it does. Silly, silly person.

  4. Zmodem

    they should all be paper

    easy to put out with your recycling, and "corode" with abit of rain, then IBM's system would be even more worthless

  5. John Robson Silver badge

    @sam - Speed of light

    Does change according to the substance through which it is propagating - it depends on the dielectric and magnetic properties of that material - this is how refraction works.

    Of course the difference between air and air is enough to cause mirages and a whole host of other phenomenon, but that's still not really enough to change the maths by much.

    Of course the model fails to account for the fact that the cashier can, in most cases, start scanning things while asking the question, thus wasting no time at all.

    This is a ridiculous invention, it's not solving any extant problem.

  6. Dazed and Confused


    Doesn't the US have a clause in their patent laws about the invention not being obvious. OK RFID systems might be patentenable but how the hell can the patent office justify granting a patent of this?

    What next, will there be a patent for a system that avoids asking the customer whether they'd like the bag to be brown or white?


    Is it time that they just scrapped every bloody patent and then they could afford to do with out all the patent lawyers and most US companies would halve their total business costs over night.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    Sorry dude but it does change. (Not much as epsilon_r is about 1.00054 and mu_r is about 1.0000004)



    SO the speed of light in air is 0.99972990935 X vacuum speed.

    I have said too much - To the helicopter!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Now that I wasted a perfectly good comment - here is what I wanted to say to this great debate

    Paris for President!

  9. Adam Foxton


    Actually, it does. If it didn't, you'd not see rainbows and prisms wouldn't work. Oil slicks would look really flat and dull. Some more advanced fiber comms stuff would also stop working.

    Also, in lab conditions, they've slowed light down to under 30mph. And I believe that other scientists have knocked photons to speeds very slightly higher than the speed of light in a vacuum somehow.

    But yeah, it is a stupid fucking question to ask. For the more "eco-conscious" person, just stick with plastic like everyone else and save a massive amount of energy, waste materials, trees and other stuff from use/destruction. Or bring your own bags and save EVEN MORE!

  10. Kevin Pollock
    Paris Hilton

    @sam - Speed of light... a given medium is a constant.

    The refractive index of dry air at sea level is 1.0003, which means that light actually does travel a teeny weeny bit slower in our atmosphere than in the vacuum of space.

    Paris because I have roughly the same chance of shagging her as of anyone giving a flying fig about this post :-)


  11. David Simpson

    IBM is pushing back boundries people !

    How about leaving a pile of paper bags next to a pile of plastic bags at the end of the checkout, customer then picks bag type without wasteful waffling.

    Patent pending bitches.....

  12. Herby

    But it isn't that speedy!!

    Often times you get asked the dumb question BEFORE you present any identification, payment card, or loyalty card. So, unless it can determine your preference by how you look, or some such, it isn't going to work.

    Personal experience (yes even I go to the grocery store) indicates that the bagging of your groceries starts before you have everything on the conveyor belt. Sometimes it is done by a person other than the one actually doing the scanning.

    So, it isn't going to save any time, in fact it might waste some!

  13. jack horner
    Black Helicopters

    I don't want your fckng bags! - how many times do I have to say it!!!!!

    1. No I don't have a 'loyalty' card

    2. No, I don't want a bag, thanks

    3. I come to this shop ~ once a week, see the same till minder every time and every time you pull a bag from your stack and shove it at me without asking - and then go all slack-jawed and uncomprehending when I say no thanks.

    4. Will this patent save me any time? - no of course not!

    Seriously though, some greedy idiots just want to make sure that they don't miss out on OWNING something - even if anyone with half a brain can see it's a totally worthless piece of sht!

    black helicopter - because - 'What do you mean - you don't have a loyalty card?'

  14. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    example program & data

    print "<$name> likes <$type> bags, because of <$reason>"

    Max, plastic, asphyxiation roleplay games


  15. Steven Jones

    blatant sexism

    Consider the following extracts :-

    "If a customer is standing 3 feet away from the cashier, it would take approximately 0.002665 for the words "paper or plastic?" to reach him at the speed of sound."

    "it would take a mere 0.000000001016703 seconds for the information to reach her at the speed of light."

    This blatant bit of gender stereotyping will probably have completely passed by the approximately 99.9% male readership (my conservative estimate) of this virtual rag. It's just a good thing that nobody from an HR department has ever heard of The Register or the formal complaints would have been winging there way in.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    The easiest way to cut through the whole dilemma is to use a plastic crate instead of bags. No fuss, no waste and no chance of the sub-epsilon at the till asking stupid questions.

    IBM is a bowl of dicks.

  17. Pedantic Twat

    why paper or plastic?

    Couldn't you just take your own bag to the shops every time you go?

    That would get rid of the waste problem and the need (need?!) for systems like this?

    Apologies for pointing out the bleeding obvious.

  18. Kenny Millar

    Better off with a Mac

    Of course this only applies to Windows users, who are idiots by definition.

    A Mac user would wear a badge (made from recycled card) that says "No Plastic bags please." and cut the transaction time in half.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Speed of light

    The speed of light is a constant, but is different depending on the material.

    If you were to attempt to measure the speed of light by running along side it at the speed of light, you would find that it is still going away from you at the speed of light (in all directions).

    Yes, I have just read 'a brief history of time'

    But remember, Einstein calculated that nothing can be accelerated to or beyond the speed of light (because it would need infinite energy), but he didn't say anything about things already travelling at or beyond the speed of light! (K-Pax)

    That waffling is because the point I was going to make - that sound doesn't work in a vacuum, so the authors model falls down (let alone the people who are apparently alive in a vacuum) - has already been made by another commenter.

  20. Mark Lawson


    Four words.

    "Would you like cashback?"

    (If I wanted ***ing cahback I'd have ***ing asked for cashback)

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bass Ackward

    "...Often times you get asked the dumb question BEFORE you present any identification..."

    Over here in Airstrip One, it's *always*. I've finished packing stuff away in my bags before giving them any cards, most of the time. Does *anywhere* begin the cashier-customer interaction with swiping the loyalty card?

  22. Martin

    The REALLY BIG question.

    If a grocery store employee says "Paper or Plastic?"

    and there's no-one in the store to hear it,

    .....Will it adversely affect the price of a tin of baked beans?

    ...The shopping trolley is out there!

  23. James Anderson

    Denial of Service Attack?

    IBM seems to be executing a denial of service attack on hte US patent system.

    IU think the plan is to flood the patent office with dumb patents so that the real patent trolls cannot file any more "one click shopping" patents.

    The poor corporate lawyers can than get back to filing motions at the golf club as god intended.

    Is it Friday yet?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Example output.

    "<undef> likes <undef> bags, because of <undef>"

    You need a store card for this to work.. I fear the software may be more complex.

  25. A.A.Hamilton


    Why is there something that looks suspiciously like a Greyhound Bus stuffed inside the terminal?

    Is this some new type of package transport layer?

  26. Dark Horse

    time saved?

    If only they came out with a system to stop those annoying screaming kids at the checkouts...

    Or a system to reduce the amount of time taken for the nice old dears that spend at least five minutes trying to find the right money off coupon in her purse...

  27. Eddy Ito

    Paper is dead!

    Doesn't everyone pay with plastic in one way or another? Seriously, between debit and credit cards, who keeps cash in their pocket? Now where the hell is my RFID money? Oh, there it is!!

  28. Haku
    Thumb Down

    Tesco's scan-it-yourself tills

    the ones without a conveyer belt practically force you to take a plastic bag, if you have a rucksack or pannier bag and place it on the machine where the plastic bags hang it refuses to scan your items, this is because that shelf has weighing scales in and checks the weight of the item you just scanned to make sure you don't put a different item in the bag than the one you scanned, and it doesn't like the weight of your rucksack/pannier bag.

    Stupid eco unfriendly Tesco :p

  29. Jeff

    @everyone @ing sam

    14 comments so far and 6 of them have been to point out that the speed of light is affected by the medium*? Crikey, don't you READ the comments before having to show the world how clever you are?

    We need a little piccie of a dead horse and a whip.

    * Something most of us know already, anyway.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anybody know these guys?

    Primary Examiner: Lee; Michael G.

    Assistant Examiner: Savusdiphol; Paultep

    Attorney, Agent or Firm: Pastel Law Firm Pastel; Christopher R.

    These people should be ashamed of themselves, the examiners because they didn't do their job, the attorneys because they shamelessly exploit the system to the detriment of the patent system and society in general.

  31. Enno

    speed of light...

    Ah yes, speed of light... and IBM in one article. Made me flash back to the "jokes file" from the 70's which featured this gem (all over the net. Just google for OSVU if the link gets moderatrixed...).

    "...IBM, through its wholly owned subsidiary, The United States of America, is working on a program to upgrade the speed of light and thus reduce the overhead of extraterrestrial and metadimensional pageing..."

    Ahead of its time I say!

  32. Cullen Newsom



  33. Anonymous Coward


    I bring my own bags, thank you...

    They have big handles and large storage capacity, much more manly than those wimpy plastic or paper bags :-)

  34. A

    I understand their reasoning!

    The reasoning is simple; they don't have any intent to make this, but the research department needs to be seen to be doing *something*.

    A PHB would never question whether a patent was going to be approved or was even vaguely useful. They'd just count the numbers of patents applied for.

    Reminds me of my time spent in a call centre for a certain fruit vendor. My dear PHB always checked the average duration of calls per day and the number of inbound calls. Funnily enough one of my colleagues aced it, but she never actually took a single support call. She arrived at the office, called her friend for most of the day, then "accepted" but promptly hung up on 45 calls at the end of the day. Only one outbound call, excellent, and 45 calls per day with an average call duration of nigh on 9 minutes. Yup, she was being paid to talk to her friends all day; and was regularly given "top employee" accolade for doing so. I really hate having a work ethic at times...

  35. Andrew Tyler

    I dunno...

    What if sometimes I want paper and sometimes I want plastic? It depends on how far I have to carry it, and whether or not I need more bags to clean out my cat's litter-box or whether I need more bags to put my paper recyclables in.

    Anyways, the point is now moot. My local grocery store has already largely moved on to those 'self checkout' machines. The girl at the traditional checkout line is always trying to get me to use them because, she says, it's more convenient. Heaven forbid I should be inconvenienced by someone ringing up and bagging my groceries for me when I could so conveniently do it myself.

    She deserves to be replaced by a machine.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    > Doesn't the US have a clause in their patent laws about the invention not being obvious.

    I think this "invention" is anything but obvious. I for one have never realized there was even a problem!

    Anyway, IBM patents everything it possibly can, and in most cases, like here, the world+dog can simply look on and shrug.

  37. ted b
    Black Helicopters

    Old Iron???

    surely this is just IBM getting a patent on the software they use when you call their Helpdesk...

    caller # A


    >:IBM helpdesk now scanning......

    >:RESULT.. caller requires assistance....

    >:RESOLUTION... no action taken

    caller # B

    >:IBM helpdesk now scanning......

    >:RESULT.. caller requires large volume purchase....

    >:RESOLUTION... putting you through to human interface....

    ... Come to think of it, MS is likely to challenge that patent... Heck we all know they have been running that very same application since the mid 80's, last century.

    Helicopter cos there is one hovering above this story somewhere.

  38. E

    Patenting what?

    Are items 202 and 214 patented as well? If so does the patent specify that 202 & 214 are *my* head, *your* head, or just he person down the streets' head?

  39. Anonymous Coward

    @JH - I don't want your fckng bags! - how many times do I have to say it!!!!!

    Jack, I'm just registering a new patent..

    What you need to do is hold an RFID card programmed to say you don't have a loyalty cad and/or need a bag.

    I'm rich!! Thanks Jack. Thanks IBM.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prior art in Japan at FoodExpress supermarkets

    "... it will be appreciated that, instead of the card, the customer identifier may be any one of a token, a key fob, a chip, or any other suitable type of portable identifier."

    I live in Japan and often shop at FoodExpress supermarkets. They have been operating just such a system, using tokens, for years. The priority date on IBM's patent application is July 20, 2006. I am pretty certain FoodExpress have been using the tokens already before that date and that means it would constitute prior art. FoodExpress use a Japanese cashier systems, not IBM, so this shows just how obvious this "invention" is. Besides the use of tokens for getting a certain item at the cashier is hardly anything new in the first place, for the purpose of a patent claim it doesn't matter if the item you receive (or don't receive) in return for a token is a product you pay for or a product you are given as a throw in (such as a plastic bag). It is simply a token for product exchange. Reversing this into token for no-product exchange doesn't make it novel, doesn't make it an "inventive step" both of which is required to qualify for a patent grant.

    Everybody who feels this patent was granted unduly (and thus in violation of US patent law) and who cares enough should write to the USPTO and tell them of prior art where tokens have been used at check out at any kind of shop (not just supermarkets). I for one, will write to the USPTO and quote the prior art I found at my local supermarket here in Japan.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    The effects of a patent bounty

    Well, that's another $1,500 in some IBMers pay packet, and more brownie points for their manager to climb the slippery pole of internal promotion... Time well spent then.

  42. Martin Lyne

    Someone.. paid for the idea of "a screen that shows stuff". Christ. Can I patent every website panel/table I've made?


  43. Trygve Henriksen

    And my response is always 'I have my own'...

    A local chain 'Kiwi' here in Norway sells solid nylon bags for a little over 1£, and with the promise that if it gets ruined, they'll replace it at no cost.

    In other shops they have boxes of baggies under the conveyor where you place your goods. Then it's your responsibility to pick as many as you need, and of the size/material you want and place on top of he belt with your other stuff.

    No need for the teller to ask, and the time you spent picking the gags best suited for you would have been waisted waiting for the granny in front of you finishing complaining that the food was cheaper before and paying with all the smallest coins she can find...

    Mine's the one with a green nylon baggie balled up and stuffed into a pocket.

  44. Sam

    @ Adam Foxton

    "Also, in lab conditions, they've slowed light down to under 30mph."

    They recreated Virgin Media's network in a lab?

    " And I believe that other scientists have knocked photons to speeds very slightly higher than the speed of light in a vacuum somehow."

    Stephen Hawking is on his way round to run you over very slowly.

  45. Whitter

    The patent system

    The patent system is irrevokably broken: unless of course you are a big business interest. Invention? Novelty? Purpose? None are important. Its even more borked than the modern abuse of copyright.

    The only issue is "have you enough money to litegate?" If you do, you don't even have to spend it: just having it is enough. If you don't - you are screwed.

  46. Steve Wehrle

    Good idea for pubs

    This is a good idea for pubs across the country ; no more having to shout your order across the crowded bar, just flash your card and they'll know what you're having. The card could even be pre-programmed with your "limit" so they wouldn't be able to serve you when you've had too much.

    Mind you, I went to a pub the other day for a pub meal and was asked if I wanted "cashback" when I paid with a card. I won't be returning there in a hurry!

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Mike - strong brown paper bags

    I got one of these in a well known discount clothes shop the other day.

    Within about 2 minutes the handles had ripped off and I had to go into another shop to get a plastic bag to put my 'strong' brown paper bag into.

  48. This post has been deleted by its author

  49. spiny norman

    Mama's got a brand new bag

    I never realised shopping was such hard work. According to the patent people may have different packaging preferences for each item they buy. Worse, they're suggesting the packaging preference for each item could be communicated by a voice message or tone, so going through Tescos on Friday evening could sound like the end of Close Encounters.

    This also raises the possibility of customised packaging, so the Ferrero Rocher for the wife's birthday gets gift wrapped and the hemeroids cream is put in a plain brown bag and hidden under the frozen peas (though the voice message announcing this might defeat the point).

    The first cited article is a gem - "means for comparing said characteristic of said article as identified by said article identifying means with the characteristic of the actual article to confirm the identity of the article bagged by a bag formed by said bag forming apparatus, whereby to prevent both deliberate fraud and inadvertent mistake in the self-service checkout of said one or more articles."

  50. jolly


    "Stephen Hawking is on his way round to run you over very slowly."

    First time I've laughed out loud in the office for quite some time! Thanks!

  51. Anonymous Coward

    Only ..

    Only in America ;-0

    (in the UK many supermarkets do not offer *any* bags at all now; you are supposed to recycle/reuse your own)

  52. Simon B

    IT'S A BAG! how complicated do shops make it for u guys?!

    It's a BAG ffs! At least in England if I want a bad at the supermaket I just pick one up! What next? ... "would you like the red, yellow, green, purple, or arange bag sir? ... ok, would you like that degradable, bio degradable, non degradable, recyclable or a corn bag ..."

  53. Peyton


    Unfortunately, comment approvals don't always happen at the speed of light (I guess sometimes Sarah Bee has better things to do, like write up acerbic (but witty!) articles). So sometimes they get queued up a bit and you can't read the previous post because it hasn't posted.

    Interesting comments today - it gives one that feeling of, I dunno, solidarity that you guys have to put up with the same checkout foolishness (paper or plastic, loyalty cards, etc) that we see here in the States.

    Incidentally, many chains here in the US have moved to the cloth re-usable bags as well, though they are still kind enough to offer you a paper/plastic bag if you have forgotten yours.

  54. Paul C. Hartley

    @ Adam Foxton

    "in lab conditions, they've slowed light down to under 30mph"

    I heard about this. Didn’t they use speed bumps every hundred yards, those silly bloody one way priority traffic islands, lots of roadside average speed cameras and narrowing of the road lanes by putting in permanent bus lanes at inconvenient places or did someone in traffic management put all of the traffic lights out of sync on major routes at rush hour so that the electrons had to stop every few hundred yards?

    If not, why not, it bloody well worked for the council up here in Manchester. Someone will be suggesting the use of congestion charging soon as a means of getting light travelling back at a normal speed again.

    Mine is the one with pockets stuffed full of old recycled plastic shopping bags

  55. Zmodem

    its more about

    Brown paper sacks for just getting a few things, then the nation can all get home and make helmets and masks out of them

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Patenting what?

    "Are items 202 and 214 patented as well? If so does the patent specify that 202 & 214 are *my* head, *your* head, or just he person down the streets' head?"

    The only section which really matters in a patent is the claims section. What is in the claims gets protection, anything else is just illustration which has no legal impact whatsoever.

  57. Tim Spence

    This is a fantastic solution!

    Amazing - imagine the amount of time this will save! Yes yes, you might say only 1 second per transaction, but if you consider the average medium-sized supermarket serves in the region of 750 transactions per day, as most now open 7 days a week, that's nearly an hour and a half saved a week (750 seconds x 7 days), in one store alone. Extrapolate that to a year (750 seconds x 7 days x 52 weeks), and that one store has saved over 3 entire days - allowing them to either process more customers in that time, or employ staff for 7 less days a year (based on a shop opening 10 hours a day).

    Take a massive chain such as Tesco, with over 1,500 stores in the UK processing as many or more transactions as above, and as an organisation they would be able to save over 113,750 man-hours. This equates to being able to shed the equivalent of 39 full-time staff across the company (based on working 8 hours a day). With average wages for checkout staff around £15k, that's half a million a year!

    So, as you can see, that one second makes a lot of sense.

    PS. I know my maths is probably still all wrong - you're lucky I worked it to this stage; at one point I had it so Tesco could close every store permanently and still be turning a record profit. Oh, and I'm not being totally serious with this being a great idea - although now I've done the maths, it does add up.

  58. Martin

    Soon this invention will be obsolete anyway;

    thanks to the banning of carrier bags by Gordon "must be seen to be doing something in my last months in office" Brown.

    I for one will be so glad when the perils of 21st century British life; (smoking indoors anywhere ever, free carrier bags, people enjoying themselves whilst in a car) are eradicated for good. That's exactly what our government needs to concentrate on.


  59. Garth

    Speed of light

    Is faster when than in a vacuum when it is superpositioning past a solid object. Though it isn't exactly traveling.

  60. Timothy Slade
    Thumb Up


    Use my own bag on tesco self check out lanes all the time, sometimes with lots in, just make sure to always put it in place before you press 'start' on the touchscreen.

  61. Anonymous Coward

    things aren't like they used to be

    The brown paper bags now are all light-weight recycled crap that's only good for lining trashbins. You're lucky if you can get them home un-ripped. If you do, you can re-use them in multiple ways (we used to use them for book-covers for school books when in our younger days). Plastic bags are good for lining small trash containers and have those nice built-in handles...specially good for bathrooms when you've got no idea what got dumped in there and sure don't want to ask.

  62. Kevin Reader

    Patenting the Bleedin' Obvious

    Again the USPTO gives a patent on the bleeding obvious just because they put a complicated diagram and lots of really big words in it. So basically IBM have patented the idea of identifying a customer and looking up ONE small fact in a database and updating it if their choice changes. Oh wow - storing a fact in a database and retrieving it correctly. Now I realise some firms (BTW, tiscali, etc) have great trouble with this concept - outside of sales calls but really.

    And if the RFID seems clever what if the person behind you is standing a bit too close. How does it know which is you. What if you shop with a friend and stand together. So the patent does not even work.

    The electronics magazine 1970's spoof of the Nuclear UPS that came with a 500' extension cable (for your safety) and an easy to fill out copy of the necessary NRA documents made more sense.

  63. Anonymous Coward

    Tsk, tsk

    Why aren't the savings calculated in the Reg's official Vulture Central Standards Soviet units of measure?

  64. Daniel


    "14 comments so far and 6 of them have been to point out that the speed of light is affected by the medium*? Crikey, don't you READ the comments before having to show the world how clever you are?"


    By the way, did you know that the speed of light changes through various mediums according to their refractive index? Thus the speed of light in our atmosphere is, in fact, different than the speed of light through a vacuum.


  65. Tim Spence

    @ Jeff

    "14 comments so far and 6 of them have been to point out that the speed of light is affected by the medium*? Crikey, don't you READ the comments before having to show the world how clever you are?"

    The problem comes about because comments don't appear immediately, and take time to be moderated and then published. Therefore there is a period (sometimes as little as 10 minutes, sometimes hours) where loads of people can reply thinking they're the first people to do so. When they are all approved and published, it looks like everyone just kept repeating the same thing.

  66. Zmodem

    and in the real

    light is just a reaction to heat, when the "elements" cool the light dies, everything that creates light dont just shoot particles out at light speed, bring on the paper sacks i want a king arthur helmet and walk around with it taped to my head with some parcel tape

  67. Kleykenb

    pay for the bag !!

    Am I living in the only country where people actually have to PAY for the damn add invested bags in grossery shops ... and we do not even have the option for a paper bag, only plastic bags with the name of the grossery shop on them ?

    Using the environment as an excuse many companies are actually shoving one of their costs right into the throath of the customer.

    Even worse is Carrefour, who have their own "Carrefour Visa" card and a cassiere ready for just those few customers that have one of those. Being in controle of how many cassieres are available this has the end result of all customers haveing to wait in long lines except for those with the Carrefour Visa cards !!! All I hope for is that other people, just like me, stop going to grossery stores that feel they can abuse their own customers in subtle but very real ways.

  68. Richard Scratcher

    Paper or Plastic? Luxury!

    You're lucky, we 'ave t' put all us shoppin' in a cardboard box. An' we 'ave t' pay shop owner thruppence ha'penny t' park us car int' car park.

  69. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And to think...

    They actually paid someone an obscene amount of money to think that one up...

  70. Jeff

    @Daniel and @Tim Spence

    @ Daniel- I remember being taught this in the advanced physics institution that was my high school. And therefore assume that 90%+ of TheReg readers also know this, along with other tidbits like "why is the sky blue".

    @Tim- good point.

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ bws

    "They actually paid someone an obscene amount of money to think that one up..."

    Almost certainly they didn't pay anything other than the patent attorneys. IBM and Ericsson are well know for a policy that engineering staff are either encouraged or even bullied into filing at least one patent. They don't care what kind of patent, they don't care if the patent makes any sense at all. They don't care if the patent is enforceable. It's a numbers game. File 100.000 patents a year and the likelihood is that there will be a couple of thousand amongst them that are actually worth something. Plus, shareholders and investors often look at the "patent portfolio" and since they are too stupid to realise that 99% of those portfolios are complete rubbish, they think that a large portfolio represents a large value and so they are more likely to invest.

    About ten years ago, friend of mine worked for Ericsson and he would only get a promotion if he filed a patent. This was part of Ericsson's policy at the time for engineering staff, it is quite possible the same still today. He was desperately trying to think of something. Then he was sent to an internal seminar where he was actually told that it was irrelevant whether the "invention" would be any useful, that he shouldn't worry about that, that he should just make something up, file it and be done with it.

    I venture to say that this IBM patent is just such a patent, made up and filed so somebody could get recommended for a promotion.

  72. Geoff Dallimore

    Hooray for crap inventions

    Looking over some of the comments here, it's interesting how many people think this is a bloody obvious idea and how many other people think it's a bloody crap idea.

    I'm with the "bloody crap" idea group because, if it's crap, it explains why it got a patent. You see, patents aren't granted based on how good an idea is but on whether anyone else has thought of it before or if it would have been an obvious thing to do at the time. If an idea is totally stupid, nobody in their right mind would have thought of doing it so it can't possibly have been obvious! And granting a patent on a bloody stupid idea does nobody any harm because nobody in their right mind is going to do anything that infringes the patent.

    The only people who lose out are the inventors who are so convinced their idea is the best thing since sliced bread despite all the evidence to the contrary. You can't blame the patent attorneys because they aren't business advisers and they would be risking their necks giving advice about how good an invention is - first rule of patents: "attorneys will advise on the patentability of selling arms to Iraq, but should never comment on the advisability of doing so." Their consciences remain clean, too, because obtaining a patent on selling arms does not give the patent holder the right to practice their invention.

    It comes down to a simple rule, the second rule of patents: "not every good idea is patentable, and not every patentable idea is a good one."

  73. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Geoff Dallimore

    I realise you were using a Joke icon, but I still take issue with the fact that you seem to think that a good idea would automatically be eligible for patent protection.

    Contrary to popular belief, patent law does not allow for ideas to be protected. Only specific implementations may be protected under patent law and then only if they meet certain requirements.

    In other words, something may well be a good idea, and its implementation may well be a useful apparatus, but a patent on that apparatus may nevertheless be unwarranted and bogus, simply because the apparatus, usefulness aside, may not fulfill all the requirements for patent protection:

    1) industrial applicability

    2) novelty, that is there must be no prior art

    3) non-obviousness

    4) involving an inventive step

    5) described in sufficient detail for persons skilled in the art to carry out the invention

    The present invention clearly lacks an inventive step. Tokens used to represent goods during a transaction have been in use for as long as there has been commerce. Just because such a token is now used for goods which are given out free of charge doesn't make an inventive step.

    Think of a mouse trap. Painting an existing mouse trap in a different colour doesn't make it a new invention. There is no inventive step involved.

  74. Chris Ellis

    Only one problem

    You would loose 73 seconds per transaction waiting for the IBM button to call down via 320 different IBM frameworks before an action is actually taken.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like