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Executive Editor

Patently prolific

Jan 27, 20034 mins
Data CenterIBM

IBM secured more patents than any other company in 2002.

Several inventions devoted to grid computing and self-healing systems are among the 3,288 U.S. patents that IBM secured last year.

Big Blue was the leading patent producer in 2002 by almost 1,400 over the second-most productive company, Canon Kabushiki Kaisha, which earned 1,893 patents, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

This marks the 10th consecutive year that IBM generated the most U.S. patents. By IBM’s count, its 10-year total is 22,357.

It’s not just IBM’s research division that’s churning out patents, says Jim Russell, director of emerging technologies in IBM’s application integration and middleware division. “It really crosses all of our divisions – software, hardware, services and research produce patents.”

It’s natural – and expected – for IBM employees to come up with innovative solutions to technology problems in the course of their daily jobs, whether that’s working on product development or in the field with customers. “It’s the kind of thing that people are encouraged to do,” Russell says. “Patents are an expected part of a technical individual’s job.”

This year, the number of patents related to autonomics and grid computing is not surprising, given that there’s a corporate initiative to make IBM’s e-business on-demand strategy a reality for customers. “The more people are looking at it, the more innovation is coming out of that,” Russell says.

E-business on-demand will require end-to-end systems management of varying sets of distributed server, storage and network resources, aided by new tools and techniques such as automated resource replication and failover, IBM says. Here are some of the patents that will influence e-business on-demand:

  • Patent 6,356,929 : “Computer system and method for sharing a job with other computers on a computer network using IP multicast” allows for job sharing among computer resources in a network or grid. For example, an overworked computer can send jobs over a network to other computers, which will perform the assigned tasks and return the results to the requesting computer.

  • Patent 6,345,369 : “Environmental and power error handling extension and analysis for systems with redundant components” details a method for a computer to monitor itself and determine if its environment is causing a component failure. It detects the environmental effect on system faults – an important step toward self-healing computers, IBM says.

  • Patent 6,412,025 : “Apparatus and method for automatic configuration of a personal computer system when reconnected to a network” is about automatic network reconnection. It describes how a computer can automatically detect when it has been moved in a work environment and will subsequently establish new network settings to reconnect to the network.

  • Patent 6,480,972 : “Data processing system and method for permitting a server to remotely perform diagnostics on a malfunctioning client computer system” describes a self-healing technique. It permits a server to perform remote diagnostics on a malfunctioning client computer system that’s connected to the server via a network.

    A key point of the invention is that the malfunctioning client is not restarted to run the diagnostic program, which preserves the malfunction for subsequent analysis, IBM says. Instead, a network adapter operating as a bus controller within the malfunctioning client will execute the diagnostic program and send the results to the server.

  • Patent 6,449,676 : “Hot-pluggable voltage regulator module” has to do with replacing a computer system component without powering down the computer system. Specifically, a defective voltage regulator can be replaced while the system is running without creating a disturbance on a circuit board’s voltage rails, IBM says.

  • Patent 6,442,713 : “Cluster node distress signal,” describes a distress system that transmits a message in the event of a computer failure to all of the other computers in a cluster so that processing responsibilities for the failing computer can be reassigned.

In the consumer area, IBM’s 2002 patents cover inventions such as a sensor-based system that monitors a vehicle’s mechanical health and calls for at-home service, such as an oil change; a method of filtering spam from e-mail; and a way to turn a PDA into a television remote control.