IBM has been granted a patent on a variant the out-of-office email. But it’s already agreed to release it into the public domain.
The application dates back to 2010 but only made it through the US Patent Office review procedure a few weeks ago. It’s in the usual legal jargon, including a 314 word sentence, but for the most part it simply describes the long-established concept of an automated out-of-office message.
The only thing close to a new twist is the idea of having the out-of-office message set up in advance so that people writing to someone in the days leading up to their absence get an automated warning that they will be going away.
The patent earned harsh criticism from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which described IBM’s filings as a trivial change to existing systems rather than a new invention. It suggested the patent office had merely checked IBM’s filing against previous patents rather than checking whether its ‘invention’ was already being used in the real world.
IBM has now told the patent office that it is formally surrendering its rights to the patent. That prevents IBM from enforcing the patent, but still blocks any other company from getting a patent for the same thing.