The Unites States Patent and Trademark has a tough job, with technologies constantly evolving, great deals of money at stake and the general issues associated with being a big Government bureaucracy.
They have often been criticized, however, in recent years for allowing patents to issue on things that one might think are “obvious”, i.e. not inventions at all. “Non-obviousness” is the term used in US patent law to describe one of the requirements that an invention must meet to qualify for patentability, codified in 35 U.S.C. §103. One of the main requirements of patentability is that the invention being patented is not obvious, meaning that a “person having ordinary skill in the art” would not know how to solve the problem at which the invention is directed by using exactly the same mechanism.
Makes some sense, I guess.
Now, here comes the latest example of “How Was that Not Obvious”?, courtesy of a the USPTO
awarding a patent to IBM Tuesday for its System for Portion of a Day Out of Office Notification. ‘Out of office features in existing applications such as Lotus Notes, IBM Workplace, and Microsoft Outlook all implement a way to take a number of days off from one day to many days…Yet, none of these applications contain the feature of letting a person take a half-day or in more general terms, x days and x hours off.’