Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 14/10/2002We're all for diversity here on ZDNet UK, and roundly applaud high tech companies that branch out into new areas. However, IBM's attempt to patent the art of going to the lavatory was perhaps one step too far -- and their voluntary relinquishing of the patent awarded is a welcome return to core values.

Monday 14/10/2002
We're all for diversity here on ZDNet UK, and roundly applaud high tech companies that branch out into new areas. However, IBM's attempt to patent the art of going to the lavatory was perhaps one step too far -- and their voluntary relinquishing of the patent awarded is a welcome return to core values. Let me explain. Two years ago, Big Blue patented a method of queuing for the smallest room in places where demand exceeded supply, such as aircraft, concert halls, railway stations and so on. A computer would assign you a place in the queue and advise you of the likely length of wait, presumably using the Q4AP protocol. Why IBM thought this was an innovation, when we've actually been rather good at using sanitation for a few thousand years, is a mystery -- as is the patent office's decision to grant it. Prior art would seem a problem, and the one area where actual innovation may have taken place -- in deciding how long the person before you was going to take -- is distressingly not covered in the filing. Other questions are also left hanging in the air: would the computer keep a log? Would the original binary system of zeros and ones be replaced by numbers one and two? How many toilet jokes can one man cram into a paragraph? But now the penny has dropped and IBM, flushed with embarrassment, has abandoned its attempts at operating cistern design. And a good job too.

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