Public Policy

Public Policy

IBM is committed to helping improve the social, economic, and legislative systems that benefit society. We regularly contribute our expertise on public policy issues ranging from security and privacy in a digital world to growth strategies for a global economy. In doing this, we collaborate with lawmakers, regulators, public officials, and civic leaders around the world.

In 2013, we paid particular attention to an essential element in building a healthy global economy: patents. Patents are published descriptions of how to make and use inventions, and the inventors who obtain them receive limited, exclusive rights in exchange for teaching others about their inventions. This exchange enables the further advancement of technology by building on the innovations of others. Patent systems provide the protection needed so creative endeavors are not misappropriated by others who have not shouldered the same development expense, while promoting follow-on innovation by disseminating information.

The best patent systems attempt to strike a balance—if patents are too strong or too weak, the impact of the patent system is not optimized. Exclusive rights may reduce competition and raise prices in the short term, but increased innovation eventually enhances competition and benefits public well-being.

IBM is an innovation company, and inventions are critical to our success. IBM has set a new patent record, achieving 21 consecutive years of patent leadership with more than 6,800 US patents awarded in 2013. This accomplishment represents the company’s unyielding commitment to research and innovation. IBM invests more than $6 billion a year in research and development that helps to generate approximately $100 billion of revenue annually by providing innovative products and services.

This investment also contributes to boosting economic growth and competitiveness because these inventions strive to meet our clients' demands and make the world a better place. They are designed to enable fundamental advancements across key technology domains, including Big Data and analytics, cloud, mobile, and software.

Recently, the patent system in the United States has come under attack, due to abusive litigation practices by entities unfairly asserting patents and leveraging the high cost of litigation to obtain settlements. Unfortunately, calls for patent reform to address this problem have highlighted only negative aspects of the patent system. Emboldened by news of the negative aspects, extremists have called for outright abolishment of the entire patent system. Others have made declarations that legitimate and highly innovative technologies such as software should not be patentable or should be treated with undue suspicion. Calls to discriminate against software inventions also have arisen in other countries, including Brazil, India, New Zealand, and Germany.

IBM strongly supports reforms that will curb abusive behavior, but we urge caution against weakening our patent system, especially measures that would devalue only those patents relating to specific technologies. The optimal approach strikes a balance that promotes innovation. And innovation is our economy. Failure to appropriately strike this balance risks crippling the most competitive industries, such as life sciences and information technology. Imagine life without cures for new diseases or advancements that lead to the next generation of computing. Without the jobs these industries provide, we risk hobbling a global economy and missing out on the benefits that innovation brings to people’s lives, as well as the solutions needed to address society’s problems.

Some examples of IBM’s related work in 2013:


the number of US patents awarded to IBM in 2013

US patent number 8,510,296

US patent number 8,510,296 enables IBM Watson to more accurately assess questions posed in natural language and determine confidence in the accuracy of potential answers.