In a nod to the open-source development model, IBM has patented a method that maps out a means of payment for broad numbers of developers working together on projects.
U.S. Patent 6,658,642, which IBM applied for in June 2000, was granted last month. In it, IBM identifies a "system, method and program product" for development that employs a distributed programming model, according to the documentation defining the patent. The patent describes the current software development environment, where pressure to turn out quality software quickly is pushing companies to rely on developers outside corporate walls.
"The high-tech industry is moving very fast and the first to market has a big advantage over competitors, often deciding the early winner," IBM said in a description of the patent. "So, speeding up software development increases the likelihood of success. One way to speed up software development is to increase the number of programmers on the project, distributing the workload to as many programmers as possible. Unfortunately, hiring people for a very short period of time complicates rather than simplifies development."
IBMs patent defines a mechanism for paying programmers who work in an open-source-like model. The invention is aimed at reducing development time and costs and increasing the number of software development successes, the patent said.
Nancy Gamburd, a patent attorney and partner in the Chicago law firm of Dykema Gossett PLLC, said the IBM patent "does have implications for the open-source community, and how IBM utilizes this IP [intellectual property] will be interesting to watch, to say the least.
"This is quite possibly one of those questionable business method patents that the public loves to hate but that we would all like to own and wonder why we didnt do it first. The patent really covers virtual outsourcing for software development and has some surprisingly broad coverage," Gamburd said.
An IBM spokeswoman was unable to provide comment last week, as the researchers involved were unavailable.
IBM issued a release earlier this month citing the number of patents the company was issued last year. According to IBM, the company was issued 3,415 patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In addition, the Armonk, N.Y., company had more than 1,400 software-related patents, or about 40 percent of the patents the company received last year, IBM officials said.
Although the patented scheme appears to mimic an open-source model, IBM does not call it an open-source development paradigm. The company has invested heavily in open source and is one of the leading proponents of the Linux operating system. Last week at the LinuxWorld conference in New York, IBM officials touted the companys respect for the open-source community.
"We have been very sensitive to be good citizens [of the open-source community]," said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBMs general manager of e-business on demand, in an interview. "If you want to be accepted, you have to show up with your best and brightest. It has been a good relationship, but we work very hard at it."